How to combat 911 misuse with a ‘carrot and stick’ approach

One or two quick announcements won’t work, but a sustained public message has been proven to do the trick


No one likes change except for a wet baby. So to see a city reduce its share of frivolous 911 calls using a sustained, multi-prong approach to educating the public is great. 

After the first 911 call was placed in 1968, public safety providers spent the next two decades educating the community to use the number for emergency situations. It has spent many more decades responding to a growing number of unnecessary calls for service.

EMS providers have seen a tremendous number of calls that defy the definition of an emergency situation. EMS1 readers regularly lament about just how few of their service calls are for “true emergencies.” 

(Image City of Nashville, Tenn.)
(Image City of Nashville, Tenn.)

I agree that there are definitely service calls that get my goat. On the other hand, I’m willing to put up with those nonsense runs because our current health care system continues to promote so-called misuse of emergency services.

We still don’t do a good job managing our nation’s health care needs, despite all the money we spend on it. Many people end up falling through the cracks; that’s why EMS and emergency departments continue to be the nation’s safety net.

But I digress.

What I do like is the carrot and stick approach this system takes to reduce 911 misuse. Getting school kids to buy into the concept is awesome. Following up on prank calls and prosecuting offenders — and making it public — are the negative consequences.

It bears repeating that the message of change is continuous and sustained. One or two quick flurries of public service announcements won’t do it. 

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