911 dispatchers use innovative approach to respond to domestic violence calls

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A 911 dispatcher answers the phone. However, instead of asking for help, the caller asks for a pepperoni pizza.

To the average person, this situation may seem like the caller dialed the wrong number. However, emergency dispatch personnel in the Salt Lake area are trained to recognize that this call may be a domestic violence victim’s cry for help.

“Sometimes they will call under false pretenses so that people who overhear them will think that they are calling to order a pizza or they’re calling their kid’s school,” said Jennifer Hurst, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch Outreach Coordinator. “The dispatcher will figure out what’s going on and ask them yes or no questions so they can answer safely.”

International Academies of Emergency Dispatch or IAED is a non-profit located in Salt Lake City which conducts research and provides training to improve the protocols for the emergency dispatch community, including dispatchers in the Salt Lake area.

On Wednesday, Hurst gave a presentation aimed to educate the public on what actually happens on the end of the line when you dial 911. She focused on how emergency dispatch personnel in Salt Lake are trained to answer domestic violence and sexual assault calls using specific protocol.

There are several options to reach out for help for those in domestic violence situations.

An option for those in Salt Lake and other parts of the country is to text 911. However, people should check to see if that is a possibility in their area.

“You should call 911 if at all possible, but if not possible, you can text and you’ll get the same service,” Hurst said. “The same person will be answering, but it will be through text messages.”

Hurst said that in situations in which the caller cannot talk, the dispatcher may ask yes or no questions that the caller can answer through tapping a certain number of times on their phone.

Unfortunately, said Hurst, domestic violence calls are not an unusual occurrence, and there have been dispatchers who have been very innovative about how they can communicate over the phone.

“The dispatchers are trained to pick up if something is weird about the situation,” she said. “They may not know what is going on, but they will send help.”

Support for victims and survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence is available 24/7: 1-800-897-LINK (5465). If you or someone else is in immediate danger, or in an emergency, please call 9-1-1 immediately

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