A recent state audit highlighted the fact the State 911 Department is doing a poor job educating people about a potentially lifesaving "silent call" feature.

On Monday, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump’s office said it found the State 911 Department “did not effectively promote and educate the public” about the statewide 911 emergency call system’s feature that lets people communicate with an emergency operator, even if it’s unsafe to speak. For example, if a person in an abusive situation calls 911, the operator can ask the caller to press “1” for police help, “2” for fire assistance or “3” for an ambulance. The operator can also ask yes or no questions and the caller can press “4” for yes and “5” for no. 

Advocates for domestic violence victims probably know about this silent call feature, but the audit – conducted from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2019 – found the State 911 Department didn’t do enough to educate the general public about it.

A press release from Bump’s office, which accompanied the audit, said there were 3,475,240 calls made to 911 in 2019.

In the press release Bump said, “The 911 emergency system is a lifeline for people in moments of crisis and it is essential that it be available to every person, with every need, at every hour of the day. Our audit makes clear that although the system is working effectively, its services and features, including silent emergency calls, could be better promoted in our communities.”

The audit recommends the department do more outreach “through the distribution of materials, including brochures, telephone stickers, and children’s educational materials,” and work with non-profits, such as DEAF Inc., Jane Doe Inc., and the SafeLink Domestic Violence Hotline, to get word out.

This is excellent advice on a little-known but important feature of telephones – a feature that should be included in educational efforts from the early grade school level through adulthood.

Editor's note: A previous version of this editorial cited the wrong time frame for the State Auditor's Office audit of the State 911 Department. The audit began in October 2019 and was a look back at two years of data from the 911 Department. The audit was done and a final report released in about a year and a half.

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