“911 Connect” Emergency Response Exercise Tested 911 Protocols

June 4, 2017.  Imagine this.  You have an emergency and call 911. Simple enough, right?  But what if you can’t HEAR the 911 operator?  Many people do not hear well enough to have simple conversations on the telephone, let alone one in a stressful situation. This is why there are two protocols on Prince Edward Island for dialing 911 for the hard of hearing, ‘Dial 911’ and ‘Text with 911’.

Recently, members of the PEI Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, in cooperation with the province of PEI’s 911 Provincial Coordinator, 911 Operators, and managers from Island EMS, conducted a live exercise, “911 Connect” to test the two protocols to see if they worked as planned.

EMS responders also tried out a pocket talker to help communicate with the hard of hearing.  A pocket talker is a portable device that amplifies sounds, when the hard of hearing person wears the headphones. It is useful for one-on-one conversation, and can be used with or without hearing aids.

Two volunteers from the PEI Chapter were the “patients”:  One who wears a hearing aid and has a cochlear implant, was the ‘Text with 911’ patient.  Another, who wears two hearing aids, was the ‘Dial 911 patient’.  Two Operations Managers from Island EMS were the responders.  Observers of the exercise were the Acting 911 Coordinator from the Province of P.E.I., an Operations Manager from Island EMS, and two executive members from the PEI Chapter.

The exercise began with ‘Text with 911’.  The texting was by a first time texter, and it took 6 minutes to text what a prolific texter could have done much quicker.  In comparison, the ‘Dial 911’ call took 1 minute and 21 seconds. Our volunteer counted to 5 aloud after dialling, then repeated her name, address, emergency, and that she was hard of hearing three times before hanging up.

The scenario for both exercises was the same: the caller had symptoms similar to a heart attack.  During the ‘Text with 911’ exercise, EMS responders were astonished at how well our volunteer could hear with her cochlear implant, which she wouldn’t have on if an emergency happened at night.  When it was removed, her only way of understanding the EMS responder was by speech reading.

Next, ‘Dial 911’ began.  Our volunteer had removed her hearing aids prior to the exercise, making it a challenge for the EMS responders.  The pocket talker proved its worth here!  Our volunteer also used speech reading techniques to follow the conversation between herself and the EMS responder speaking to her.

The PEI Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association was grateful for the opportunity to test the 911 protocols to be assured that they do work.

© Daria Valkenburg