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Dodge County’s new 911 simulator helps kids in an emergency

Posted at 2:07 PM, Jul 06, 2019

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — While 9-1-1 might be the most recognizable phone number in the United States, when the time actually comes to dial the three digit number, many people find themselves ill-prepared for obvious reasons.

“When people find themselves in a situation where they have to call 911 it’s usually a pretty stressful situation,” Shelly Holzerland, director of the city and county’s Public Service Answering Point 911 dispatch center, said. “There is something going on out of the ordinary or that is frightening and it’s hard to know even what you are supposed to do — a lot of times we have to take time to try and calm them down.”

That problem is also amplified if it is a child who has to make the call, said Holzerland.

“With kids it is really important for them to know that they are talking with real people who are here to help,” she told the Fremont Tribune.

In an effort to help prepare kids and adults for what to expect in the event they have to call 911, the city and county Public Service Answering Point 911 dispatch center recently purchased a new 911 simulator.

The dispatch center’s new 911 simulator was purchased with help from donations from First State Bank & Trust Co., Fremont Area Community Foundation and Walmart.

“We were just so excited when we got it, and we really can’t thank our community partners enough for their support,” Holzerland said.

The new simulator was built by Missouri-based NextGen Hero Project and features a variety of new technology to bring the demonstrations into the 21st century.

According to Holzerland, one important aspect of the new 911 simulator that sets it apart from the dispatch center’s old simulator is the simple fact that it uses a cellphone instead of an older-style landline phone.

“We had a very old simulator that has a desktop phone, so when kids would come to the table most of them would say, ’What the heck is that?” she said. “They were more sidetracked figuring the phone than what we were trying to teach them.”

Along with implementing a cellphone, which children are much more familiar with nowadays, it also allows demonstrators to teach children and adults how to use text to 911 features that are currently available in Dodge County.

“A lot of people of all ages still have questions about how text to 911 works, so this new simulator should be very helpful in getting people of all ages familiar with that process,” Holzerland said.

After recently receiving the new 911 simulator from the manufacturer, the dispatch center has already put it into use by holding demonstrations during the most recent MainStreet of Fremont Concert in the Park series event.

Holzerland said the response from kids who participated was much different than with the old simulator.

“They picked it right up and dialed 911,” she said. “There was no tutorial on how to use the phone first, which makes a huge difference.”

The demonstrations are fairly simple.

Kids or adults simply pick up the cellphone included with the simulator, dial 911, and follow a script to learn the most efficient procedure when having to make the call for real.

The new simulator is a turnkey closed loop 911 demonstration system. When someone dials 911 using the cellphone provided with the simulator, the call is then routed to the simulator’s “batphone” allowing the instructor to act as the 911 dispatcher and gather vital information to give lifesaving instructions.

Holzerland says one of the most important pieces of information needed by dispatchers when a person calls 911 is that person’s physical location.

“Knowing where the emergency is, is really the most important bit of information, because even if you don’t tell me anything else at least I can send help to where you are,” she said. “If you are at home, you are going to need to know your address and if you are out in public you’re going to need to be able to tell me where you are at.”

Knowing a person’s location has become even more important for dispatch centers as cellphones have replaced land lines as the most common phone used by the public.

“A land line is tied to an address where the bill goes and a mobile device can be anywhere,” Holzerland said.

While the location of cellphones can be ascertained by 911 operators, it is sometimes not as accurate as specific addresses provided by landlines.

“We are still using old cooper wire technology to try and get us a location so it’s not always the most accurate,” Holzerland said. “And every second counts.”

The new simulator will be used by the dispatch center at a variety of community events in coming months and years including the Dodge County Fair and by the Fremont Fire Department during its events during National Fire Prevention Week.

The total cost of the new simulator was $4,075, and it was purchased through $1,500 donations from Fremont Area Community Foundation and Walmart, and a $1,075 donation from First State Bank & Trust Co.