Calling Emergency and Non-Emergency Information
The first 911 call was placed in February of 1968 and since that call, 911 has evolved significantly. Technology, training, and state requirements among other things have changed the way emergencies are handled. Today when calling 911 or your local non-emergency number, there are a few things you should know.
- The first question asked and the most important thing to tell your dispatcher is where the incident is taking place. The exact address is preferred but if you do not know, describe the location. Use other landmarks such as businesses, other houses, vehicles nearby etc. Anything that will help the responders find the location of the emergency. If responders do not know where the emergency is taking place, then we cannot send someone to help you.
- The second question is “what is the phone number that you are calling on?”. Dispatchers need to know the best number to reach you back at if for some reason the call ends suddenly.
- The third point is “tell me exactly what happened”. Dispatchers need to know exactly what happened that caused you to make the call to 911 or your non-emergency number. Be specific as to the issue that has arisen that day.
Whether you are calling for police, fire, or medical assistance, your dispatcher will have several questions that they need to ask you to get the fastest response to your location. Per State Law, any call for medical or fire assistance requires dispatchers to use protocols for Emergency Medical Dispatch and Emergency Fire Dispatch. This means that the questions are predetermined and must be asked. Please remember that these questions are designed to assist responders in the fastest response and to assist your dispatcher in determining the correct prearrival instructions to give to you. These prearrival instructions may include things you can do as the caller to assist a person or situation before responders arrive. Please be patient and answer these questions. If you do not know the answer, just say “I don’t know.” That is not a wrong answer, it does help responders even if you do not know all the answers. Answering the dispatcher’s questions does not slow down the first responder enroute to your location. It helps everyone!
When you call emergency or non-emergency, the dispatcher is going to ask questions to verify who you are. It is completely within their realm to ask your address, confirm your date of birth, and other personal questions. If you are reporting something that does not involve you and wish to remain anonymous, simply tell the dispatcher. If you are reporting something that requires a report, the dispatcher will have to verify your information.
Emergency versus Non-Emergency
Should I dial 911 or my local seven-digit non-emergency number? There are too many different situations to go over every single one to determine whether to dial 911 or not. If you are not sure, dial 9-1-1 and the dispatcher can determine how to direct your call. The list below is a summary of when to dial 911 or call your non-emergency number but it is not definitive.
Dial 911 if:
- a crime is in progress,
- someone requires immediate medical attention,
- there is any type of fire
Use your non-emergency number if:
- you are reporting a crime that occurred days ago and there is no immediate danger,
- reporting a civil issue and there is no immediate danger,
- have questions regarding town ordinances or state laws,
- need a copy of a report,
- have questions about parking,
- wish to make a complaint regarding the responding agency you have communicated to.
I Accidentally Called 911
Whoops! It happens a lot more than you think especially today with the ease of smartphones and smart watches. One press of a button and you see you are dialing the emergency number, so you immediately hang up. The best thing you can do is to NOT hang up. Stay on the line and be cooperative with the dispatcher. The dispatcher needs to verify that the call was indeed an accident. They will still ask where you are, your name and date of birth, and they will ask if you are having an emergency. If you are not having an emergency, then answer the questions and explain what happened to cause the accidental dial. If you are not cooperative or in a hurry to get off the phone, it leads the dispatcher to think you are having an emergency or that you are not in a safe place to be able to talk.
Old Cell Phones
It happens all the time when someone gets a new phone that they let their child play with an old, disconnected phone. Please do not do this! Even if a phone is no longer “in service”, you can still always dial 911 and have the call go through. This causes many accidental calls to 911 that take up a lot of a dispatcher’s time to verify there is no emergency when they may be dealing with other emergencies. A lot of confusion comes from this, especially when it is a 911 only phone. There are phones designed to only call 911 so allowing a child to play with this phone can generate multiple calls in a short period of time. If you want your child to have a phone to play with, buy a toy phone from the toy department.
What Should I Teach My Child About 911?
Teaching your child about the use of 911 is extremely important. There are a few things to teach:
- how to dial 911 in an emergency,
- what qualifies as an emergency,
- their address,
- their parent(s)/guardian(s) legal names
and that if they do not know the answer to a question, it is okay! Just say “I don’t know”.