On June 26, Albuquerque resident Esperanza Quintero called 911 to report that her friend, 17-year-old Jayden Chavez-Silver, had been shot in a drive-by shooting and was "barely breathing." Mathew Sanchez, the dispatcher who received the emergency call, was recorded saying "I'm not going to deal with this" before hanging up on her. The high-school student died as a result of his gunshot wound.

Sanchez's actions in this case were undeniably wrong. But the regulations regarding 911 dispatching protocol are not as black and white as one might think. The US does not have a standardized training program and each local facility is responsible for enforcing its own rules and guidelines. While some counties have ample funding for dispatcher training, others don't require their dispatchers to have any formal training and lack quality assurance measures such as monitoring phone calls or providing constructive feedback.



Chris Carver

Director of Public Safety Answering Point Operations
National Emergency Number Association

There aren't any 911 procedures or policies that apply to every 911 center in the country. The policies and procedures are left to each individual agency or authority that manages 911 in that particular community. But the concepts of customer service, and proper ways to handle calls on a foundational way, are universal. I can unequivocally say that 911 dispatchers around the country are trained to treat every call as a real call. There are almost no cases where a 911 dispatcher could use their judgment to say 'this a prank call' and take no action.

911 has no mandatory training requirement in the US. Some states have mandatory guidelines, some have suggested guidelines, and some states have none at all. So there is no guaranteed minimum level of training for 911 professionals in the US. That's something our organization (NENA) is working towards - providing the guidance and framework to ensure that the level of professionalism and proficiency is the same whether you dial 911 in Albuquerque or Ohio or anywhere else.

In 2006, a five-year-old in Detroit called 911 to report that his mother had collapsed inside their apartment. The operator scolded him for playing on the phone and denied his request for help. The boy called twice over the course of three hours. The mother was dead by the time police arrived.

In 2005, also in Michigan, a woman who had been shot in the head by her husband called 911. The dispatcher was recorded asking the woman if she had a mental problem and then asking to speak to the husband. Emergency responders did not come to her aid until a third call was placed by the woman's son, who lives out of state. The woman survived but is paralyzed.


Brett A. Patterson

Associate in the Academics & Standards department, and Chair on the board of Medical Council of Standards at the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, an organization dedicated to standardizing emergency response protocol

There are a lot of standards for emergency medical dispatch, but there's not a lot of legislation. Certification in the [International Academies of Emergency Dispatch] entails a three-day certification course, plus whatever is done locally in terms of equipment training, etc.

H&F:  Do you need to be certified in order to be hired as a 911 dispatcher?''

No. In the US, the rules about hiring are incredibly fragmented. In some communities the standards are very high for a new hire and in others... if you can breathe and chew gum, you can do it. It totally depends on where you are. There are a couple of states with some legislation, but it's definitely not the majority.

One of the most important aspects of Emergency Assembly Points, other than getting certified initially, is the quality improvement efforts of the organization. They need to review calls and provide feedback to dispatchers. It's well known that once people are certified they're rather compliant to protocol. But if you give them no feedback, eventually that compliance drops off. There are some 6,000 or more Emergency Assembly Points in the US. Many sophisticated communication centers and small ones alike do quality assurance training. But unfortunately, training doesn't always get the most of the budget. So in some centers, [quality assurance] just doesn't happen.

Dialing 911

connects the caller to a dispatcher at a local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), a.k.a. Emergency Assembly Points, who then directs the call to local emergency medical, fire and law enforcement agencies.

The first emergency phone number

was 999, introduced in 1937 in the UK. The response system was implemented after a call to the fire department was held in line with the telephone company, leading to the deaths of five women who lost their lives in the fire.



John M Merklinger, MS

ENP, Director
City of Rochester/County of Monroe
Emergency Communications Department

In our center, our policy is to not hang up on callers. We use calming techniques we teach in class - such as repetitive persistence - to calm distraught callers so that we can get the necessary information to send help to the person in need.  

Every 911 call needs some basic information such as  Where is the problem?  What is the problem?  What number are you calling from? and  Who is this calling? Those questions will give you what you need to get help started and the information you need in case you need to call them back for further information.

On September 11, 2001, so many people in New York City called 911 about the planes flying into the World Trade Center that the local networks crashed. No calls could go through because the system couldn’t handle the overwhelming traffic.



John Gleason

Undersheriff at the Yates Country Sheriff's Office, Penn Yan, NY

If someone called and it was a pointless call or they were being abusive, and other calls were coming in on other lines where people needed medical, police, or fire services, then the dispatcher would use their best judgement in the interest of public safety.




Illustration: Yulia Goldman