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Article by Mohan Babu


Call 911 for help

In the United States, the system of communicating distress signals has been institutionalised into a systematic process

Human beings have always felt the need to communicate with others and to seek help, especially when in distress. Through the ages the process of communicating one’s distress to others has been refined to a system whereby in most nations, the society or government has taken the responsibility of providing emergency systems and services for their residents. In western nations, this system of communicating distress signals has been institutionalised into a systematic process whereby every person has access to ubiquitous means, for instance, in the US almost everyone is aware of the ubiquitous 911 emergency system.

Any person from anywhere in the country can use a phone — at home, a public phone or cell phone — to dial 911 and will be immediately connected to an emergency service representative who will notify the police, fire and/or ambulance service depending on the need. The system is so well refined that in most metros and cities in the US, one can call this number and expect help to arrive in 2 to 3 minutes flat. The 911 service is a call transfer system which enables people to be linked to the appropriate Emergency Service Provider (ESP) for the call location by dialling the digits 9-1-1. Emergency Service Provider means police, fire and ambulance agencies operating in the region.

The premise behind the extensive countrywide emergency 911 system is that a stitch in time can save nine. Accidents, fires, burglaries and social problems cannot be prevented, but a rapid response can help alleviate any further aggravation.

At some time or the other, most of us will probably need immediate help when facing an emergency, be it a medical condition or fire or any other law and order situation. At that point in time, it is imperative that we get help swiftly and efficiently. Watching an accident victim bleed without instant access to first aid or medical help is something none of us want. Many a time altercations or squabbles in public have a way of getting out of hand. Speedy response from public officials and law enforcement generally prevents things from getting out of hand.

In most states in the US, like in other western nations, there exists, what is commonly known as a “Good Samaritan” law. What this implies is “When anyone in good faith, renders emergency care or assistance at the scene of an emergency or accident, no liability may be imposed for any civil damages arising from acts or omissions in rendering such emergency care” [extracted from a legal text]. What this means is that people who aid others in distress will not be held accountable. In general, if a Good Samaritan does what a “reasonable person” (in France he’s called a bon pere de famille) would do under the circumstances, he won’t be held liable in negligence for any harm he may cause the accident victim. This encourages bystanders and those who witness accidents to report them to authorities, at the very least, call 911 and inform someone about the incident.

A few weeks ago a couple in my apartment complex had an opportunity to test our local 911-response system. The lady was deep-frying their dinner and the frying pan caught fire. The husband, a friend of mine, had the presence of mind to immediately pick up the phone and dial 911. Within about 5 minutes, sirens blazing, the fire truck arrived at their doorstep. By then the residents had managed to contain the blaze using a handheld extinguisher. The firemen were prompt and professional and without panicking, got the right equipment and not only controlled the fire but also helped clean up a part of the mess, all in a matter of minutes. I shudder to think what would have happened if they were delayed by even 10 or fifteen minutes since most houses and apartments here are built out of wooden boards and panels.

It is interesting to note that the emergency service system is modelled after customer response systems in most large corporations. Just like their counterparts in large corporations, public officials are accountable for their actions and lapses. The level of efficiency and customer service that they strive towards is truly amazing. Needless to say, human life and dignity are really valued; especially since most taxpayers here consider themselves ‘customers’ of government and public service and do not hesitate to hold them (the public servants) accountable.

In order to provide the kind of responses described, there exists a huge network of systems and emergency response teams spread across the country. Phone companies are required (by law) to provide this service to every telephone. Cities and counties in all states across the US are required to maintain ‘command and control’ centres, manned by officials 24 hours a day. These officials not only take calls but are also able to provide telephonic assistance till help arrives at the scene. All these services do not come cheap. Federal and state governments have special budgets just for emergency care system. Even phone companies levy a small fee on their customers for the 911 services that they provide. The management of inter-state phone, emergency, fire, police and networks is an art that Americans seem to have perfected.

It is hard to imagine this level of service in a country of over one billion people. However, it is time we start working towards a “Good Samaritan” law and help people and officials in India become more aware of the need to have a universal emergency response system. Even if we cannot afford the complex technicalities of building networks and maintaining emergency response teams, the human side of emergency systems is something that we can definitely strive towards. The day we stop hesitating to help someone injured in an accident is the day we will start working towards a universal emergency response system in India.

Of course, with the number of Indians travelling abroad and seeing these emergency systems work in various countries, it is but natural for us to attempt to ape some of these systems. Coming from an Indian background, where a good Samaritan helping an injured person involved in an accident makes news, I still cannot cease to be amazed at the system that works!!





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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