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Emergency Assistance in the Age of COVID-19, part 1

Chuck Hurst News


officerCalling 911 to request emergency assistance is ingrained into the mindset of Americans across the nation. Many Americans have no recollection of the patchwork and disjointed processes of the past when you needed emergency assistance. From calling an operator (remember those?), a neighbor who was a cop or firefighter or calling the police directly, it was a convoluted affair that needed a major overhaul.

Enter the introduction of 911. While 911 primarily handles law enforcement services, fire services, and emergency medical services (known collectively as Public Safety), the focus of this article will be on police and law enforcement.

What is important for one person may not be important to the next person. It all boils down to perspective and how one views the issue at hand. We can also say this about what constitutes an emergency that would necessitate calling 911 for emergency assistance. House fire versus squirrel in my bathtub. Person shot versus keys locked in the car. Heart attack versus my bunion is really sore. (All are real examples of actual 911 calls, by the way.)

Law enforcement has a finite amount of resources at any given time. A system of separating and filtering a true emergency from a non-emergency is an essential component of the 911 process. However, the next level of separation involves attempting to prioritize different types of emergencies. Operators must then ranked the emergencies in order of dispatch.

An overly simplistic example would be a person shot having a higher priority than a commercial burglary alarm. The shooting has a definite sense of urgency over a possible burglary of a business. In police hierarchy, a crime against a person would typically carry more importance than a crime against property.

As a business owner, you now know that what may be most important to you (your business) may not be most important to law enforcement due to call prioritization and limitation on resources. Depending upon call volume, dispatch may “hold” the commercial alarm for a few minutes until field units can respond. This type of screening and assigning a dispatch priority have been in place for years out of necessity and are in no way related to the onset of COVID-19.

In a pre-COVID-19 world, law enforcement made a concerted effort to provide police services far beyond responding to emergency calls. From handling fender benders in a company parking lot to talking with a business owner about issues with homeless persons, the service-oriented nature of the profession was evident. While many law enforcement agencies, particularly the larger ones, already had programs or initiatives in place to reduce the burden on the field units by using online reporting, telephone response and other redirection strategies, citizens expected to talk with their cops face-to-face. As a result, law enforcement endeavored to deliver in the spirit of public service. COVID-19 has significantly altered the manner law enforcement may respond to both emergency and non-emergency calls. How can these changes impact your business? We will discuss that in the next article.