What if There Was No 911?

The title of this post should give readers some idea of the direction I’ll be going with this, but I want to maintain a distinction between probable and possible. In terms of prepping, I am much more of a probable rather than the possible mindset. To that point, just last week I took a screen shot of my Facebook feed to illustrate the reality that manmade systems and plans fail. The title of this article is not some uberprepper fantasy, rather, as evidenced by the photo below, these types of things actually do happen.

A 911 failure… it CAN and DOES happen.

The lesson from this is that you should always have a contingency plan in mind. This doesn’t have to be a detailed back up plan for everything that could go wrong; rather, it is simply possessing the mindset and wherewithal to stop, think, and then take action when others might simply panic. This has been a central theme to many things in my life.

First, in my career as a paramedic, I am often the one that responds when things go wrong and others panic. A very large unwritten part of my job description is organizing panicked chaos. Of course, I also realize that I wouldn’t have a job without the 911 system. I’m not suggesting that it’s not a good idea. Instead, I’m simply suggesting that people should first try to be as self-reliant as possible. For example, if I am called to a choking and the Heimlich maneuver is successfully performed before I get there, the call is often no big deal. If, however, the patient’s airway is still obstructed upon my arrival, they are probably already dead or nearly so. The old adage of, “when seconds count, the cops are minutes away” applies equally to EMS, whether discussing airway obstruction, exsanguinating hemorrhage, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Take another example. A few years ago, I had a lot of time and money invested in technical diving as a hobby. For those unfamiliar with the sport, technical diving is distinguished from sport diving by the use of breathing gasses other than air and often by having either a virtual or actual ceiling that cannot be violated in an emergency ascent to the surface, such as required decompression. To survive dives under these parameters, technical divers carry redundant gear and have a contingency plan for almost every failure point. On a real technical dive, you can’t call for immediate help when something goes wrong and you can’t bolt to the surface. You have to fix the problem whenever and wherever you encounter it, whatever it might be. Just like anything else, this requires training and the proper tools and mindset. I have always told my diving students that panic, not equipment failure, is what actually kills you.

So, let’s return to those emergencies where 911 is often the default answer. Although the public uses 911 for some inane shit at times, the majority of the calls are legitimate requests for fire, police, or EMS. (Despite the widespread use of the term “first responders” when referring to such services, in truth, you will be the real first responder to your emergency. You’re already there!) Whether your house is on fire, someone is breaking into your home, or you or a family member needs emergency medical attention, you are responsible for the immediate interventions until help arrives.

That may mean grabbing a fire extinguisher or quickly evacuating your family from your home, drawing a gun and hunkering down behind a closed door or heavy furniture, or applying a tourniquet or starting CPR. You should probably make sure that you’re prepared to do all of those things before you might actually have to!

The prepping I refer to above is just basic stuff. It’s simply having the tools, knowledge, and mindset to react appropriately. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home and vehicle? Do you own and carry a gun? (I hope most readers of this blog do.) Do you carry a basic med kit or at least a TQ? Likewise, do you know how to actually use a fire extinguisher, how to quickly access and use your gun, how to perform basic first aid? All of these things are basic life skills.

But let’s look at the bigger picture inherent in the questioning title of this article. What if there was no 911 or perhaps no way to call 911? Do you, as suggested in the above Facebook post, know the direct numbers to your local rescue services? Do you and your family members know pertinent phone numbers without relying on a cellphone? Do you have a plan of action if 911 isn’t working?

Batteries die and networks have outages. About a month ago, in my service area, a utility pole and transformer caught fire. I have no way of knowing if that was the root cause, but cellphone data services were severely affected at the same time. I can attest, having become almost reliant on the cellphone I carry, having no service in the middle of a densely populated suburban area is disconcerting. Both voice and text communications were spotty at best. Surfing the internet or Facebook was a no go. This can happen at any time for a variety of reasons, some innocuous, others sinister.

One of the tin foil hat scenarios that is particularly disturbing to me is the potential impact of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. In the immediate worst case scenario, I would be faced with a roughly 50 mile commute home, on foot, through some not-so-nice neighborhoods and urban areas and across a major river with a limited number of accessible bridges. While I don’t really subscribe to TEOTWAWKI theories, and believe that social disruption would be largely transient, I acknowledge the danger that temporary social disruption presents. Do you carry a well thought out “get home bag” or “go bag?” I’ve definitely been giving this some more thought lately. In the realm of more probable scenarios, a natural disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane or even a bad Nor’easter could just as easily wreak havoc on the local infrastructure (as evidenced by recent flooding and wildfires this year in different parts of the United States).

What I’m trying to communicate in this article is truly one of the central themes of this blog. In everything you do, learn as much as you can. Strive to be self-reliant. Help others when you can. Be prepared to help yourself, your family, and your community. Don’t be part of the herd that thinks, “It can’t happen here,” or “It won’t happen to me.” Accept that bad stuff happens all the time and is not constrained by geographical or societal boundaries. In other words, it’s not the event that matters, it’s how you respond to the event that truly matters and makes a difference.

In closing, let me try to sum up my disjointed rambling. Returning one last time to the question I initially posed, I think we would be well served to encourage individuals to take an active role in their own survival that extends beyond the expectation of calling 911. Start with yourself, if necessary. To steal a line from Kyle Defoor’s mindset briefing, “If not you, then who?” There have always been capable people called upon in times of crisis. They are the people that make a community strong. How do you be that person in this modern age of cellphones and social media bluster? Let me suggest a more nuanced plan for emergencies… don’t just plan to dial 911. Instead, think about what to do before and after calling 911. Sometimes, calling immediately is necessary. (If you have to display your gun, winning the race to call 911 is of vital importance!) Sometimes, immediate action is needed before the call. Sometimes, delegating a bystander to call 911 while you address the problem may be the best idea. And sometimes, 911 may not be an immediate option. If nothing else, think about the probabilities and possibilities and what you might have to deal with at some point. This alone will go a long ways toward preparing for emergencies and surviving when bad things eventually do happen.

As always, thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or ask questions, and if this post has been useful to you please share it with your friends and family. Be safe out there.

2 thoughts on “What if There Was No 911?

  1. As I read your article it made me laugh. I’m 56 and retired. After 15 years in the Marines and 20 in the FBI I know I can rely on myself. Why? Because that’s the way I was raised. My father ingrained in us that no one owes you anything and if you want something in life then work for it. I’ll come back to my father later.

    In this day and age of technology I see how we as a society have gotten hooked on the internet and cell phones. When I enlisted in 1980, we hand wrote letters home. I called my mother collect once a month. I was an FBI for two years before I got issued my first cell phone. We relied on pagers and quarters to communicate. The quarters were for pay phones. I 1996, made an arrest with another new agent in Middleburg, VA. I had to stop at a local 7-11 to buy a map to find the street where we needed to go.

    My point is we did what we needed to do. We didn’t complain. We figured out the best plan of action and just did it.

    I now live in a rural area of WV about an hour and a half from Northern Virginia. There are two volunteer fire-rescue stations (theoretically) 8-10 minutes away. Two years ago a neighbor came over desperate for my help. HIs wife had a heart attack in the yard and he thought she was dead. There was nothing I could do but cover her body and keep him away. The flies where bad for that time of year. It took the rescue squad almost an hour to arrive. The Sheriff’s deputy took another 30 minutes after that to get there. My wife and I have our own emergency medical plan and she was a 20-year agent herself and accustomed to dealing with adversity.

    Get the basics: fire extinguishers, medical kit, lots of flashlights and guns:). If you don’t know how to use them get training. We keep the cars gassed up in case we need to go to Winchester for a medical emergency. My closest neighbor out here is a mile away. If she’s home.

    Get your gear together, make a plan and then live your life.

    Oh yeah, my dad. In 1986, I took a civilian sport parachute course at Fort Ord. I was pretty pleased with myself and told my dad about it. He made some comment about why would I jump out of a perfectly good plane. He just didn’t get it. Fast forward 23 years. At his funeral one of his military friends told us all something about him very few people knew. They had been close friends since 1951. My dad was a gunner on a B-29. He knew my dad as well as anyone did. He said my dad had 2 combat jumps in Korea. My brothers and I looked at each another. What was he talking about? What two combat jumps? He was a gunner in Korea not airborne. It turned out that he was in two planes that got shot down while on mission. He never said a word about his three years of military service.

    This is what I learned from my dad. Life isn’t always fair and no one owes you anything. Be prepared to take care of yourself no matter what the situation is.


    1. David,

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing your experiences. I hope when you said my article made you laugh, it was a good laugh. I’m not so worried about those that live in rural areas, but perhaps I am a bit jaded against urban humanity and people’s lack of resiliency after 17 years in EMS.

      I am convinced that if more people were raised as your father raised you, we would as a society, be in a much better place. I did some quick math and realized that I think we both lost our fathers the same year. We owe your father’s generation a debt that can never be repaid.

      At any rate, again, thank you for your comments and sharing your experiences, and thank you for your service to our country.


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