In recent years, ad campaigns have asked the public to call 911 only in case of an emergency and not to use the number to ask general questions, get directions, or find out the score to a sporting event.
Now, new campaigns are dialing in on cell phone use.
"The 911 District is attempting to educate the public and make them aware that when you call 911 from a cell phone, it is different from a wired telephone in a residence or business," said Raymond Chiozza, director of the Shelby County Emergency Communications 911 District. "Seventy-two percent of all 911 calls that are answered by the Public Safety Answering Points throughout Shelby County originate from a cell phone."
Radio and television spots began to air this month on local channels. The ads stress that people should be able to tell dispatchers their location.
"When calling from a wired telephone, the location and name are delivered to the appropriate dispatch center that serves that residence or business," Chiozza said. "Cellular calls are often not automatically routed. Often you may need to be transferred to the proper agency in the area."
In addition to the ads, the 911 District is also developing comic and coloring books for children.
"The comic book is intended to educate children on when and how to use 911," said Ken Woodmansee, director of corporate communications at cs2 advertising. "The book follows the day-to-day actions of the 911 Responders, a group of four superheroes whose mission is to provide kids with guidance when they need to call 911."
Since 2004, the local 911 service has worked to make response times faster. The initiative began after two men, including former Memphis mayor Wyeth Chandler, died after confusion ensued over whose jurisdiction they were in. In Chandler's case, 12 minutes passed before he received medical attention even though there was an ambulance two minutes away. In another case, it took 30 minutes for an ambulance to reach Jim Wagner even though there were multiple ambulances within five minutes of the pool hall where he suffered a heart attack.
In addition to reworking how ambulances were dispatched, emergency services tried to stem the number of frivolous calls to 911 that blocked the phone lines for other callers with legitimate emergencies.
A list of what should be known when calling 911 from a cell phone is posted at ShelbyCounty911.org. Topping that list is knowing the emergency agency needed and the address and cross street where the emergency occurs.