During several of my self defense seminars I’ve had students tell me that their first planned line of defense against violent crime was to summon the police by calling 911. One woman said that she would dial 911 on her cell phone and hold her finger over the send button while walking alone at night. Another said she would call home and talk to her husband while walking to her car because she felt reassured.

Let’s be clear – calling 911 during an emergency when possible is a great idea. The quicker you can summon help the better. However, when seconds count – the police are minutes away.

I don’t have statistics on police response time to 911 calls in Maine, but average EMS response time is 6-12 minutes. This figure varies significantly depending on location. In a violent attack or home invasion, it’s unlikely that an attacker is going to give you 6 minutes. In a report commissioned by the State of Maine to analyze the 911 system, it is stated that a delay of even 30 seconds in response time is life-threatening.

I used to mistakenly think that calling 911 automatically gave the police my location and, even if I was unable to speak, help would arrive.  Enhanced 911 has made this better for calls from home phones, but cell phones are another story. Call 911 from a cell phone and it’s likely you’ll need to be transferred. I experienced the first hand in Boston when I witnessed and accident and called 911 on my cell.  The State police answered the call and didn’t even know what city I was calling from. Then they transferred me and I got a busy signal.

Two women who worked for me were in a car accident in front of a State Police bunked in Massachusetts and called 911. It took 20 minutes for a trooper to walk out of the front door and help them. Larger cities like New York have had times when response was over 45 minutes.

The truth is that calling 911 should not be your primary line of defense. It’s too unreliable – you don’t know when help is going to arrive. If your house was burning down, you wouldn’t call 911 and then sit inside and wait for the fire department (I hope). You’d get out and then call 911.

You are the first line of defense for you and your loved ones. You need to be prepared. Get yourself some training.

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