Teaching Children How to Use 9-1-1

Teaching children how to use 9-1-1 is crucial and could save their lives or the lives of others.

Here are four simple steps for teaching your children, no matter how old they are, how to use 9-1-1.

  1. First explain what 9-1-1 is.

  2. Teach them to assess the risks before dialing 9-1-1.

  3. Explain what type of information to give once they have called 9-1-1.

  4. Practice scenarios with them to make them more familiar with the concept without frightening them.

To find out more about how to prepare for a wide range of emergencies, go to www.ottawa.ca/areyouready.


1) Explain what 9-1-1 is

First, children should be taught what the 9-1-1 service is and when to use it.

  • Let them know that they can call this service at any time if they think that they or someone they know are in danger or are seriously injured.
  • Assessing this kind of situation may not be obvious to children, so it is a good idea to provide concrete examples that they can relate to.
  • The primary goal is to raise awareness without making children frightened of a potential emergency situation.
  • If your children are young, use simple words and avoid medical terms. For example, you could say: "If you see someone lying on the ground not moving, find an adult immediately. If no one is around, call 9-1-1."
  • For very young children, show them the phone keypad and make sure they understand which numbers to call.
  • If someone close to you has a particular health problem, you should explain it to your children. Describe the symptoms and tell them what to do in case this person is not feeling well.


2) Assess the risks before calling 9-1-1

  • Next, your children must be able to determine whether or not it is safe to call 9-1-1 from where they are.
  • Remind them that they must be somewhere safe before calling 9-1-1.
  • For example, tell them that if there is fire in a room or throughout the house, they are to leave the house immediately and then find a safe place where they can call 9-1-1. Remember: Calling 9-1-1 from a payphone is free.
  • Explain to your children that calling 9-1-1 is not a game or a joke. Tell them that every second counts when someone is in danger.  An unnecessary 9-1-1 call could prevent someone who is truly in danger from getting help.
  • If you carry a mobile phone, or no longer have a land line home phone, keeping your phone charged and teaching your children how to use it are important.
  • Make sure that your children are aware of any special function keys or speed dial features.


3) What to say to the 9-1-1 Call Taker

  • Finally, explain to your children what will happen when they call 9-1-1. Tell them that someone (a man or a woman) will ask them whether they need police, fire or paramedic
  • If your children are very young, briefly explain what each service is and what they can do in emergencies or instruct them to tell the Call Taker on the line that they need help right away.
  • Teach them that they are then to describe the situation and say where they are
  • The Call Taker will ask for the location of the emergency as well as the name and phone number of the caller.
  • Teaching children to recall their home address and phone number from an early age are critical skills when dealing with an emergency situation.
  • Remind them that even though they may be frightened, it is important to speak loudly and clearly and to provide accurate details.
  • Tell them to listen carefully to the instructions from the 9-1-1 Call Taker and follow them carefully.  If they are unsure about what they are being asked to do, tell them to ask again so they clearly understand.
  • If your child accidentally calls 9-1-1:
    • Remind them NOT to hang up
    • Stay on the telephone and explain that you accidentally dialed 9-1-1, there is not an emergency


4) Practice / role-play

Familiarize children with emergency situations to help reduce panic or anxiety in case of a real emergency.  For example, you can make up your own 9-1-1 quiz show or create a game with scenarios for children to test their knowledge. Adapt scenarios accordingly to children's age and development. Practice several times a year so that children are as prepared as possible to deal with all types of emergencies.

Below are three basic scenarios you can use. The answers are provided in brackets.


Scenario #1

  • You're playing in the living room when you hear a loud noise from the kitchen. You go to see what's happening and see mom on the floor. What should you do? (Check to see if mom can hear me.)
  • Mom answers you, then tries to get up but can't. She is bleeding a lot. Should you call 9-1-1? (Yes, I have to call 9-1-1 and ask for a paramedic/ambulance.)
  • What do you have to tell 9-1-1? (The Emergency is at 123 X street, X city. My mom fell down, she can still talk but she's bleeding a lot and can't get up. I am calling from 613-XXX-XXX.)
  • Can you wait for the paramedic/ambulance with your mom? (Yes. I'm not in any danger.)


Scenario #2

  • You come home from school and see that the door to your house is open. You know that your parents are not home and you are not sure if you should go inside. What should you do? (Go to my neighbour's house and ask to call 9-1-1 or use a payphone for free.)
  • What should you tell 9-1-1? (Location of the emergency is 123 X street, X city. I got home and the door to my house is broken and open. I don't know if anyone is inside.. I need the police. I am at my neighbour's house 125 X Street, X City, and I'm safe.)
  • Can you wait for the police? (Yes, but I have to wait at my neighbour's house, I can't go home to wait for the police).


Scenario #3

  • You're playing outside with your older sister and she falls off her bicycle. What should you do? (Check to see if she can hear me.)
  • She answers you but says her knee hurts a little. Her knee is bleeding a little bit. Should you call an ambulance? (No, this isn't a serious injury and she is conscious.)
  • What should you do? (Go home to clean the injury or go get help from an adult I know.)