911 operators have a very stressful job and often need to make judgment calls with barely a second to spare: People's lives are (quite literally) on the line.
That said, sometimes people who call in aren't always able to ask for help outright. Each situation is different, and some are more precarious than others, as was reaffirmed after Redditor bryanRow52 asked the online community: "911 operators of reddit, what were the most creative ways that people asked for help when they couldn't explicitly say it?"
"I've managed to question a caller..."
I've managed to question a caller by using my console to display the keys they pressed because they couldn't talk because they were afraid they'd be heard. ie: If you're upstairs, press 1. Is anyone else home? 1 for yes, 0 for no. Worked out pretty well.
Another time I had someone talk to me as if I were their mother and had to work responses into the conversation. I did my best to help feed them lines to keep it going undiscovered.
"I worked 911..."
I worked 911 up until a few months ago. I received a call from someone who asked me how I was doing and I originally thought it was a prank but then I asked if there was an emergency. She QUICKLY said yes. So I had to ask questions in a way that she could answer as if she was talking on the phone to one of her friends. The hardest part was getting a description of the subject in the house and her address. She ended up saying something along the lines of, "Silly, dont you remember I live at 1234 Second St, not first Avenue!" Ended up being a domestic and she was pretty beat up but thankfully she got help that night.
"We try our very best to find you."
There is no 100%. The best would be to text someone and have them call us, but that isn't always possible either. Sometimes dialing and just lay the phone down so we can hear, then try to say whats going on. "Why are you hitting me" "why do you want to kill me". trust me we listen to an open line like its an FBI wiretap. If its a landline, we will get an address, if its a cell phone you are at the mercy of how well you cell phone provider pin points your GPS location. Cell phones with no active service and only call 911 are less accurate than one with service. If at all possible try to give hints to your location...
"you said it would be better when we moved to ABC street., call the other person by name. Pull the mad momma first middle last thing.. sometimes we are familiar with the person. And know where to look. Anything at all helps, why we are listening we are doing searches on any thing we hear that is identifiable. Have officers driving the general location it pinged to. We try our very best to find you.
911 operator here. I had a caller who I could tell was in distress from her breathing. As I kept talking she kept shushing me. I asked if she could tap on her phone once for yes and twice for no. I as I asked her yes and no questions I was able to use the GPS on her phone to get her location and decipher that someone was in her house and she was hiding. Police arrived on scene and it was her ex who had a gun and was looking for her. 9 years and that was one of the craziest calls. Those stick with you.
"I heard an indistinct tussling..."
I heard an indistinct tussling and then open line with heavy breathing, then the line went dead. I tried to call back and the call was immediately dismissed. Worried I was giving away that whomever had the phone was calling 911, I didnt call back. I waited on another call that never came. We often got butt dials but something about this felt different. There was no arguing or voices other than the breathing. While I waited for a callback, I looked up the owner of the phone. I called another contact number for the owner.
The woman who answered said it was a phone she bought for her daughter and that she was worried about her bc she didn't trust her boyfriend. I immediately did a location search on her coordinates, which can be wildly off, especially in highly populated areas. Thankfully, it came to an industrial area with only one house in the area. I sent officers. The officers keyed up and told me they went to the door and a man answered, there was no female in sight. I then received another 911 open line call and I could hear distant wind noises so I thought she was maybe outside. Coordinates were still the same location. I asked the officers to check around the premises bc I had a bad feeling. They found her tied and gagged to a tree in the backyard.
"It was a cell phone..."
The other day someone called 911 and I heard a commotion and someone saying "help!!" Then disconnected and wouldn't answer when I called back.
It was a cell phone so it's not like I can just send the officers to a house to check up. I start a process of trying to contact the callers provider (Verizon, T-Mobile etc) to see where they live.
After a few minutes the number called back and he said it was an accident and told me where he lived, so I sent the guys to do a welfare check.
It turns out he hit the emergency button on his iPhone while bringing in the groceries with his wife and was asking for help to get the keys from his pocket and the front door open.
Unfortunately I have to assume the worst with every call and fortunately stuff like this is pretty common.
"One such example..."
It's not very common at all that you have a situation where people have to get "creative", though something I didn't expect to get was pizza/courier service drivers (door dash, grubhub, etc.) asking for welfare checks on their customers because things didn't seem right in the home.
One such example was a pizza delivery guy saying that there was a male that accepted the order but there were kids in the background that looked miserable and dirty, nor did they looked bathed. When one kid tried to come to the door, the male screamed/cussed at the kid and pushed them away. I didn't end up finding out the outcome of our contact with that address as that's just the nature of the job, oftentimes, but I'm glad pizza bro reached out.
Another example was a package delivery guy that delivered guns to a couple that ran a commercial arms business out of their home. He advised that he made weekly deliveries of large amounts of weapons to them but this time, the female half that normally accepted the packages wasn't there and the front door was open. "She's always been reliable, the same time every week for months but now this open door and her car is here but I'm knocking and yelling her name. Nothing."
Unfortunately I don't have a satisfying conclusion to that one either. I don't even know if we made contact with her. Such is the life of a dispatcher.