A guide to using the 911 system
What is in this article?
During an emergency
When you dial 911, stay on the line and do not hang up. You might notice longer-than-normal silence before the phone starts ringing, because 911 calls are routed differently than other calls you make. Do not hang up; the call will ring through. Remain on the line until you are told by the telecommunicator that it is okay to hang up.
Emergencies don’t happen to most people every day, so your adrenalin will be pumping. Take a deep breath, and begin to listen very carefully. If you focus intently on listening, you will be less likely to become excited and shout; since many telecommunicators wear headsets, shouting is unpleasant for them. Do the best you can to speak at a normal speed and volume level.
The telecommunicator is going to ask you questions designed to get the information he needs in order to dispatch the proper personnel and equipment; he then will input that information, in a particular order, into a CAD system. Answer only the question asked, then stop talking and be quiet.
Do not speak, unless you are spoken to. This is critical, because what seems like silence to you may not be silence at all. Often, the telecommunicator may be speaking on a radio to police, fire or EMS personnel, in order to start the process of getting help to your location.
It is important to understand that their voices often will be muted to the caller on the 911 line during these radio transmissions; so, while the caller only hears silence, the telecommunicator may be listening to multiple users of a complex multichannel radio system. If you begin talking, it might force the telecommunicator to stop talking or listening to emergency responders, which may delay help getting to you.
If you accidentally dial 911, do not hang up the phone. Simply stay on the line and explain to the telecommunicator that you accidentally dialed 911 and that there is no problem at your location. Depending on the agency’s policy concerning misdialed 911 calls, you may still have a law-enforcement officer show up to ensure that no one needs assistance; nevertheless, it is important to let the telecommunicator know that it was an accident and that there is no emergency at your location. This simple action could prevent the needless injury of a first responder racing to make sure your incomplete call is not an actual emergency.
Coach friends and loved ones to dial 911 themselves. Many times an individual (often an elderly person) will be hesitant to call 911 for assistance and instead will call a trusted friend or family member to report a problem. The friend or family member then will recognize that the situation calls for an emergency response and call 911. When possible, instruct the friend or loved one to hang up their phone and dial 911 immediately. Regardless of whether a medical, fire or police response is needed, the telecommunicator needs to ask questions that often only the individual in the midst of the situation will be able to answer effectively.
Don’t use three-digit numbers other than 911 in the U.S. Periodically, information surfaces on social media suggesting that callers can dial other three-digit numbers to reach particular emergency dispatch centers. Many of these numbers are emergency numbers used in other countries. Telephone carriers often try to rout these numbers just as a 911 call is routed, but these alternative numbers never were intended to be utilized in the U.S.—so, only dial 911 when you need emergency assistance.