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Last Week Tonight: John Oliver on 911 emergency

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HBO

Sunday on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver brought up an issue of importance to pretty much everyone pretty much all the time (not just last week or tonight): 9-1-1 call centers, otherwise known as “the place you call right after WebMD says you’re not going to be able to get it out on your own.”

“9-1-1 is a number so important, we do everything to make kids remember it, from classroom posters to toy phones to folksy PSAs produced by local firehouses,” Oliver said before noting that approximately 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. every year. “The dispatchers do amazing work, talking people through childbirth, CPR, abductions, and home break-ins. In fact, we’re so accustomed to relying on them, we even call when we don’t have an emergency.” Oliver then played a series of 9-1-1 call clips, including a man asking about a local fireworks display, a woman who’s printer is jammed thanks to a baby lizard, and a little boy who’s ecstatic about having just gone potty on the toilet.

Unfortunately, while many of the call centers work exactly as they should, many others are underfunded, understaffed, and stuck with out-of-date technology. As Oliver pointed out, cell phone apps like Uber and Domino’s Pizza can track a person’s location accurately with ease, but 9-1-1 can’t. The FCC estimates that “location accuracy improvements… could save approximately 10,120 lives annually.” Still, politicians consistently reallocate funds meant for 9-1-1 call centers to other projects.

“This blasé attitude is indicative of the fact that until we’re explicitly confronted with the challenges facing 9-1-1, it seems we’re not going to do anything about them. And maybe the problem is that we are taught from a young age to take 9-1-1 for granted, so perhaps it’s time for that to change,” Oliver says before rolling on a revised PSA starring Rob Riggle as a fireman and Wendi McClendon-Covey as an overworked 9-1-1 dispatcher speaking to a bunch of kids.

Watch the clip above.

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