Emergency Medical Dispatching

What happens when you call 911?

Hopefully, pretty much everyone out there knows that one of the first things to do if you witness an emergency is call 911 (if not, consider this your lesson of the day).  Then, quickly a series of people will show up, ranging from the police, fire, rescue, and paramedics.  However, has anyone ever wondered what happens from the second the phone rings on the dispatch side? Perhaps if you’ve ever been one to call 911, you’ll remember one of the first things they say is, “where is your emergency?”  This is because as soon as they know where you are, even if they aren’t sure what is going on, they can send multiple resources and fine-tune the response as dispatch gets more information.  This is often done by pressing a button while dispatch is still talking to you! Next comes a series of questions; from a medical perspective, this is known as EMD – Emergency Medical Dispatching and not only better informs EMS of the problem before arrival, but specially trained dispatchers can even begin help over the phone!

When someone collapses, a 911 call is made, and the dispatcher asks a series of questions.

  • “Is the person conscious?” -NO.
  • “Are they breathing?” – NO.
  • “Do you, as a bystander, know how to do CPR?” – NO.

Now, that’s no problem because medical dispatchers can help talk to you and help you start first aid until EMS arrives.  Not only that, but they can now categorize emergency calls and ensure that the sickest people get the first available ambulances.  This is called triage, a French term that has been around since the Napoleonic ages.  It allows the dispatchers to determine that if someone just got shot and a call for a stubbed toe comes in at the same time (yes, people call 911 for that), the ambulance can be prioritized for the person who desperately needs advanced medical care in seconds.  This is done through a tiered system that allows dispatchers to categorize calls based on specific questions. Not that the toe pain will be ignored, but now ambulances are getting where they need to be quicker, and it has been shown that we are improving cardiac arrest and trauma survival rates because of this tiered approach to EMS.

Blog By Blaire CzarnieckiWritten by Blaire Czarniecki
Customer Service Director

Fact checked by Phillip Woods, BA, NREMT-P, FP-C

Blaire attended the University of Tennessee where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Ecology- Child and Family Studies. She has been in the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) industry for over eight years and is the Director of Customer Service for Coro Medical. Blaire is also an American Red Cross-certified CPR/AED/First Aid Instructor, highly trained by each manufacturer on their specific AEDs, and knowledgeable regarding ALL State AED regulations and legislation.

“I know that every day I come to work, I am playing a part in saving someone’s life. I am passionate about these devices and am always looking for new and innovative ways to spread awareness and knowledge about Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). I look forward to the day when everywhere I go, I will see an AED—when SCA will no longer take any lives.”

Last updated February 12, 2019