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posted: 2/21/2014 5:25 AM

Parents should teach kids how and when to use 911

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  • Some emergency dispatch systems allow parents to set up a profile, giving first responders details that would be helpful when a call comes to 911 from your phone.

    Some emergency dispatch systems allow parents to set up a profile, giving first responders details that would be helpful when a call comes to 911 from your phone.

By Sherry Manschot

Is your family prepared for an emergency? Does your child know how to dial 911? Do you have the information first responders will need at your finger tips? Increasing your 911 savvy now may save lives later.

Teaching your child how to dial 911 may be one of the most important lessons they learn. Knowing when to call 911, though, may be difficult for a child with special needs to understand. Recognizing exactly what is an emergency can be the most challenging part. Perhaps the best way to teach this lesson is to give specific examples. You can talk about smoke alarms going off, a fire, an intruder, or mom or dad being hurt. One way to help your child understand is to teach them to call 911 either when you tell them to or when they cannot wake you up.

To give your child confidence and aid in the learning process, consider visiting a local police station, fire station or a local dispatch center. (DU-COMM, one of the largest 911 centers in Illinois, offers tours to groups.) Meet first responders and have them talk to your child about their roles during an emergency. This can also reduce the anxiety should a real situation arise.

Be sure your child is 911 savvy by reviewing this lesson regularly. You could even make a game out of it. Every time you pass by a police station or firehouse, or see a police car or fire truck, ask them what number they call when there is an emergency. This is also a great time to role play common emergency situations.

There is one more thing you can do to increase your own 911 savvy. Make sure that first responders have all the information they need about your family and especially family members with special needs before they arrive on the scene by signing up for Smart911, which is available to residents served by Du-Comm in the DuPage County area and when you text 911 in the Northwest Cook County area served by Northwest Central Dispatch.

Smart911 allows you to create a safety profile, including photos, for your specific household. You upload the information you feel 911 dispatchers and first response teams should have in the event of an emergency. When you place a call to 911 from a registered phone your safety profile becomes immediately available to the dispatcher. They, in turn, will be able to immediately relay the information to first responders.

You decide how little or how much information to share. That means police can know if there is a child with autism in the home or that a nonverbal child may be on the other end of the incoming 911 call. Fire crews can arrive at a house fire knowing if there is a visually, physically or cognitively impaired family member. EMS can also be advised of allergies or specific medical conditions. And they will have this information in seconds at a time when every second can make all the difference.

In an emergency situation, having the right information can make a tremendous difference in how it is handled and how quickly it can be resolved. Recently telecommunicator Deanna Knox of the Addison Consolidated Dispatch Center was honored with a SmartSave Award for outstanding efforts to aid a citizen in need using Smart911. Knox received a 911 hang-up call. She attempted to call back but there was no answer. Because a Smart911 safety profile was created by the family, the profile was immediately displayed on the screen. Knox was able to provide information on the caller, including details on the family's son who had medical and cognitive disabilities, to officers thereby assisting in the successful handling of the situation.

"We implemented Smart911 in DuPage County three years ago to save time and better protect both our citizens and our first responders," said Jerome "JR" McBride, chairman of the DuPage Emergency Telephone System Board. "Deanna did an excellent job of utilizing the information in the Safety Profile to arm responding officers with the information they needed to approach the scene safely. I am so glad this citizen recognized the benefit of Smart911 and took the time to create their Safety Profile."

Introduced nearly three years ago by Rave Mobile Safety, Smart911 has been adopted in 33 states and more than 450 municipalities including DuPage County. Because you can register both landlines and cellphones this is important for anyone living in, working in, or traveling through DuPage County. If you have your phone registered, your profile can be accessed by any of the participating DuPage County 911 call centers when in the area. Additionally, your safety profile will be available in any other area that is using Smart911.

Your safety profile is secure, private and only used for emergency responses and available to the 911 system in the event of an emergency call. You are in complete control of what information is provided to first responders because you are the one creating the profile.

More information is available at To create your profile, visit

Being 911 savvy can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

• Sherry Manschot is the marketing/public relations manager at Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. She leads a parent network of special needs families at WDSRA. Manschot can be contacted at More information about WDSRA can be found at