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Now's the time to dial up students' safe behaviors

Minnesota Department of Public Safety divisions share back-to-school safety tips

Calling for help is an important skill for children to develop, but dialing 911 can be challenging or confusing for them.

In a recent study, none of the kindergarten and first-grade students tested could dial 911 and report an emergency, and only 16 percent of second- and third-grade students were successful with the same task.

Children need these skills because sometimes they might be the only ones who can call 911. Their parent or guardian could be choking; a friend might have an asthma attack walking home from the bus stop; a fire might spark in the home after school and before their parents return from work.

“One of the first phone numbers every child must learn how to properly use early in life is 911,” said Dana Wahlberg, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Networks (ECN) division. 

“This is so important because dialing or texting 911 becomes their lifeline when they or someone they love needs help.

Part of the issue is education. Children in the study struggled to recognize an emergency.

Before children become overwhelmed with the start of school, new classes and new friends, DPS officials are encouraging parents to sit down with their kids to discuss when to call 911.

•Let kids know they should call 911 if they see someone who needs help right away because of an injury or an immediate danger.

•When calling 911, tell children they need to do so from a safe location where they aren’t in danger.

•Ensure kids understand that when it comes to calling 911, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If it turns out that the situation wasn’t a true emergency, let children know it’s OK they called 911 anyway because they were trying to help — and that’s a good thing.

Talking to public safety telecommunicators, or 911 dispatchers, can also be scary for children. But if parents give them the information, they need to navigate the call, they’ll have the confidence to do it when necessary.

When calling 911, children need to do their best to stay calm, describe the emergency and share the address or location of the emergency.

Traditionally, children are also taught how to dial 911 using landline phones.

However, more and more often, families are relying on cell phones instead of landlines. It’s important to make sure children have access to a phone even when adults aren’t around.

They also need to know how to unlock and dial 911 using a smartphone. Parents can help them practice by roleplaying different emergency situations with their families.

Mobile phone apps that allow children to simulate 911 phone calls are another tool for parents to use to reinforce these behaviors and skills.

In Minnesota, texting 911 is also an option. Since the service began in 2017, there have been several instances of children texting 911 when their parents were in verbal or physical conflict and they knew making a call would put them in danger.

Some of the state’s public safety dispatch centers also have built-in language translation capabilities for their texting programs.


‘See it, Say it, Send it’

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s (BCA) ‘See It, Say It, Send It tip app is a resource for students, parents and school personnel to report threats of violence at Minnesota school facilities.

The app is intended to supplement law enforcement and school safety plans by quickly identifying incidents that may involve more than one facility.

The app can be used to anonymously send photos, videos or other information.

These tips will be reviewed by the BCA and shared with local law enforcement.

“Our goal is to prevent incidents before they have the chance to occur,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said. “But in the event of an immediate threat or ongoing incident, the first call should always be to 911.”

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