Most people will only call 9-1-1 once or twice during their lifetime. Having the necessary information will aid the 9-1-1 dispatcher in sending you the appropriate resources quickly and efficiently. It can be a frightening experience, but there are several precautions that you can take to make the process run smoothly for you and the dispatcher.
- Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself.
- Pick up the receiver
- Dial the numbers 9-1-1.
- Sometimes it takes a while for the phone to route to the correct answering point; be patient.
- Remain calm.
- Listen to the dispatcher. Please let the dispatcher ask the questions, they are trained to know what questions to ask and will save valuable time in getting you the assistance you are requesting.
- When the dispatcher asks you, be prepared to tell the dispatcher what type of emergency that you are calling about [Police, Medical, Fire.]
- Know the address of the emergency and the nearest intersection (cross street), or be able to provide directions for the dispatcher to relay to the emergency responders.
- Know the phone number that you are calling from. This enables the dispatcher to call you back for further information or directions, and allows the dispatcher to call you back in the event that you get disconnected.
- Be able to describe the problem (that is, the reason for your 911 call) to the dispatcher when you are asked for it.
- Follow the dispatcher’s instructions while waiting for help to arrive.
Trust that help is on the way, even if the dispatcher is still asking questions or giving instructions. Don’t panic just because it seems like the conversation takes a long time.
- Stay on the line. Do not hang up until the dispatcher instructs you to do so.
- REMEMBER: while the Communications Officer is still talking to you on the phone, they are also sending help.
- If you are calling from a school, business, or other place that has a phone system, you may need to dial a certain number (usually 9) to get an outside line. This would mean you would need to dial 9-9-1-1. If you can, ask if you need to dial a number before you can dial.
- Calling 9-1-1 can make you extremely nervous, so before you ever need to call 911, place a small card on the wall near your main telephone. Write your name,address, intersections, and any other information needed on the card. If you have to phone 9-1-1, read the information from the card. You might be too nervous to even remember your name depending on the emergency reason.
- If nothing else, know the location of your emergency. Without this information, the dispatcher may not know where to send the emergency responders.
- Remain calm. Take a few deep breaths to relax if you feel yourself losing control. By remaining calm, you are best able to provide the dispatcher with the information that they need to best help you.
- Respect the 911 system, but do not be intimidated by it. You will be speaking to a live person–trained to help you through this emergency.
- If you have access to a regular telephone, rather than cellular phone, try to use the regular telephone. Not all cell phones are accurately enhanced in all 9-1-1 systems. 9-1-1 can be dialed on most pay phones for free.
- If you must use a cell phone, tell them your location as soon as possible, as you may need to be transferred to the appropriate call center and have to start over with a new operator.
- Be mentally prepared to follow instructions. Most 9-1-1 centers will be able to provide you with instructions that will help to ensure the safety of the patient, as well as yourself [i.e. CPR instructions, the Heimlich Maneuver, etc.]. If you are not physically able, or are afraid to carry out the instructions given to you, see if there is somebody else who is there with you that can carry out the instructions.
- If the emergency occurs during the night, and there is a definite address of the location of the emergency [i.e. your household], be certain that the address is clearly visible, so First Responders/EMS can easily locate you.
- Even though it may be difficult, try your best to remain patient for EMS/Police/Fire personnel to respond to you. The closest unit to you may still be twenty minutes away. Calling 9-1-1 back because a unit is not on scene yet doesn’t make them get there faster, and can cause undue stress on both parties. This does not suggest that one should never call back 9-1-1–calling back with further information is always helpful, and can provide you an opportunity to find out where exactly the ambulance is without upsetting anyone.
- Educate your children on the proper use of 9-1-1.
- If you do accidentally call 9-1-1 without an emergency, do not immediately hang up. Stay on the line and let the operator know that it was an accident, giving your name, and address. The operator may interpret that the hangup was done by somebody else.
- Some 9-1-1 centers utilize a CAD (Computer Aided Dispatching) program that presents the dispatcher with a “script” that he/she must read to the 911 caller. The script is a series of questions and is dynamic. Based upon the answers the caller provides, the script will adapt itself and allow the dispatcher to gather all of the necessary information to dispatch emergency services. It is important to answer the questions asked, and provide as much information as is requested, whether it seems relevant or not. If, however, you do have information that seems relevant, but the dispatcher does not ask you for it, don’t hesitate to mention it when it is appropriate to do so. Try not to interrupt the dispatcher when they are asking the questions.
- If you witness an event that requires an immediate emergency response, call 9-1-1. It is not a good idea to assume that someone else will call 911. If everyone assumed someone else will call 9-1-1, no emergencies would ever be reported. When you call, try to provide as much information about the emergency as you can but never endanger your own well-being to gather info for the call-taker.
- 9-1-1 is reserved only for true emergency situations in which there is a definite, likely or uncertain threat to life, health or property. Be sure to dial 9-1-1 only when the situation you are reporting requires an immediate response by police, EMS or the fire department. Some examples: a house fire, someone having a heart attack or a robbery are all situations for which it is appropriate to call 9-1-1. A call for a broken water line, unexpected disruption of phone or electric service or the infamous “cat stuck in a tree” are not appropriate 911 calls, unless there are detrimental secondary consequences (e.g. a family member at home is being maintained on some form of electrical life support and the power goes out; the broken water line is rapidly flooding your house, et cetera).
- Call 9-1-1 yourself. Do not call a friend somewhere else to call 9-1-1 for you. The emergency line in your area connects to emergency services in your area and generally traces your phone number so that help can arrive sooner. Having somebody else call instead could make it take longer for help to arrive.
- If a medical condition is not life-threatening and it is safe to move the victim, consider driving to the hospital yourself. You will not get preferential treatment just because you arrived in an ambulance.
- If it is not an emergency, look in the front of your local telephone book for non-emergency numbers. If a crime that occurred while you were away, for example, you should use the non-emergency numbers to file a police report.
- Do not assume that the 9-1-1 center will know where you are calling from. Not all emergency dispatch centers are equipped to automatically detect your location based on your phone number: know the location of your emergency!
- Do not call 9-1-1 with false emergencies! This puts a strain on resources and can be punishable by jail time which most people don’t like. In other words, you CAN’T practice making emergency calls, so make the call of 9-1-1 when real emergency occurs.
- In some areas, harassing a dispatcher on a 9-1-1 line with profanity is punishable by jail time. While it’s understandable that a stressful situation can bring about that kind of language, do not harshly direct it towards those people whose job it is to help in emergencies
Questions Asked By Communications Officers
When you call 9-1-1 you will speak with a Communications Officer who has received many hours of training in obtaining the information necessary to get you the help you need. It is very important for you to remain calm and clearly answer all the questions you are asked. Listen to instructions given to you by the Communications Officer.
WHAT WILL THE DISPATCHER ASK YOU WHEN YOU CALL 9-1-1?
All callers are asked a standard set of questions which will help the dispatcher prioritize your call and will provide the responding personnel with information before their arrival. The following are just some of the questions that you may be asked:
LOCATION of the problem:
Where are you and where did the incident happen ?
This is important in case the phone is disconnected for some reason. Even though the 9-1-1 screen should have the phone number and address of the phone you are calling from, the dispatcher will ask you the address where the problem is, as well as where you are calling from to verify the information on the 9-1-1 screen. You may be calling from an address other than the one where the problem is. It is important to give any building names, building numbers, apartment or condominium names and unit or suite number. Be as specific as possible. Avoid using “left” and “right” as directions. This is often confusing. Instead use a direction such as “North” or “South”. The best locations are specific street address or cross streets.
NATURE of the problem:
Please use real language – don’t try to use lingo or slang, it will only confuse the situation. Just tell us briefly what is happening or what happened.
a. Is anyone injured?
b. Basic description of what occurred.
When did this occur? 5 minutes ago, 5 days ago, last year, has it been going on over a span of time (hours, days, or weeks).
How many people are involved?
Race, sex, height, weight, clothing, hair color, facial hair, eyeglasses, hat, etc.
Please give descriptions from the top to bottom, outside to inside…
An example of “Top to Bottom” is hat, hair, facial hair? Shirt, coat, pants, shoes – top of the person to the bottom
An example of “Outside to inside”is coat is on the outside, shirt is on the inside, T-shirt inside that – outer clothing first the to the detailed less visible clothing.
DID THE PERSON HAVE A WEAPON? If so what kind? Gun? What kind, handgun or long gun? Knife? What kind, pocket knife or butcher knife? Bludgeoning tool such as ball bat, frying pan, rock?
Was the person carrying anything?
Where did the person go?
Color, make, model, tag number and number of doors ? Direction of travel ? Any distinquishing characteristics such as dents, primer, items hanging from rear view mirror, bumper stickers, window stickers, damage etc.? Number of people in the vehicle? Approximate ages and sex?
When calling 911, all you have to do is answer the dispatcher’s questions! Stay on the phone and answer the questions as calmly as you can. Sometimes it may sound as if the dispatcher is repeating themselves with the same questions but you may give more detail the second time. There may have been something you’ve forgotten earlier. Please don’t become irritated with them, they are trying to obtain important information and to assist you. We know anxiety is a terrible emotion, but try to remain calm when giving information.
Do not hang up until either the 911 Dispatcher or the on scene Police or Fire personnel direct you to.
WHEN GIVING INFORMATION, DON’T EDIT OR EXAGGERATE!
Give all the information that you have. For Example: If you don’t mention that the suspect was wearing a red hat because you don’t think it was important, you may be withholding the single most important identifier in apprehending the suspect.
Emergency response WILL NOT be delayed by answering the above questions. In most instances, assistance will be dispatched while you are still on the phone. By answering the dispatcher’s questions, the dispatcher can relay important information to the units responding prior to their arrival. This increases the chances of a successful outcome to the call!
WHAT ABOUT DIALING 9-1-1 IN A MAJOR DISASTER?
There may be a delay in receiving a dial tone. Don’t flick the phone hook switch button (click button up and down), since each time it is depressed, your call reverts to the “end of the line” to receive the dial tone, resulting in further delay!
Wait at least one to one and a half minutes for a dial tone. It could take that long or even 5-6 minutes in a major disaster, because of the number of calls being made.
Please tune in the emergency broadcast station of your radio for information and updates rather than to call the police or fire departments. DO NOT CALL radio stations for updates; the less the phone lines are used, the more service there will be for emergency help.
In some instances, the dial tone will be eliminated from residential phones and phones that are not on “essential service”. In these instances, ALL PAY PHONES will be operable, with a dial tone.
There is no way to tell, in advance, if the 9-1-1 screens in the dispatch center will be functioning correctly in a major emergency, so be prepared to give the dispatcher all information.
During a disaster, electricity usually fails. Do NOT call 911 to find out when the power will go back on.
WHAT IF I DIAL 9-1-1 BY MISTAKE?
DO NOT HANG UP!
Before you hang up, be sure to tell the dispatcher that you have dialed 9-1-1 by mistake, and that you do not need emergency help! This is particularly important if you dial from a business phone with several phone lines. Anytime the police dispatcher receives a 9-1-1 “hang-up”; the caller must be contacted to be sure that no actual emergency exists. If your business has dozens or even hundreds of phone lines, it may be impossible for the dispatcher to determine who, if anyone needs help, and an officer must then be dispatched to the address.