How to Call 911

Most people will call 9-1-1 only once or twice during their lifetimes. Having the necessary information will help the 9-1-1 operator in sending you the appropriate help quickly. 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 operator.


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    Don't panic. Obviously, when you are making a call to emergency services, you are in an emergency, and have a lot of adrenaline flowing through your veins. However, this will impede your speech and may cause you to start talking too fast, too slow, begin stuttering, etc. Make sure you are far enough away from the emergency to be safe unless someone is badly hurt.
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    Find a phone. Preferably a land line unless it's a fire or burglary. This will help determine your location. If it's a fire, don't stay in the building, get out first.
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    Call 911. Pick up the receiver and dial 911. Be aware that, sometimes, it takes time for the phone to route to the correct answering point. Do not hang up if you do not connect immediately!!
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    Do not panic. This is easier said than done. Panic does not help. Instead, begin to plan what you will say to the dispatcher (see below). Remember: Panic is the enemy, in this race against time.
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    Know what you will be asked. Make sure that you are aware of each of the following:
    • Where is the emergency?: The emergency is not always located where you are calling from. Always be aware of your surroundings and where you are. Try to keep a watch out for the road signs, business names and intersections whenever you may travel.
    • Nature of the emergency: Do you require assistance from law enforcement, medical professionals, and/or fire fighters? In certain areas, the dispatcher or a computer will tell you to dial certain numbers to help them know which department to connect you with and whom you should talk to.
    • A detailed, yet concise, description: What happened? How many details do you know? What should have the most importance? In general, the most important thing is why you need assistance (a gunshot wound, for example), followed by what caused you to need assistance (say, a school shooting).
    • The phone number of your phone. The dispatcher will need instructions on how to get to where you are, and may need to call back for more information. Know the phone number of your phone.
    • Location. Give the dispatcher your name and address
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    Listen to the dispatcher. Follow orders. The better and faster you follow orders, the higher everyone's rate of survival will be. Even in a non-lethal situation (broken bones, etc.) this is of vital importance. Have strict, unwavering faith in the dispatcher. And remember that even if the dispatcher is still asking questions or giving instructions, help is on the way.
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    Do not hang up until instructed to. Anything can happen, and the emergency services need to know your situation at all times. If the building is on fire, for example, the dispatcher will need to know if there are other people in the building and where any safe exits are.


  • Emergency numbers will vary from country to country.[1] If you are vacationing, then be sure that you know what that number is. For example, the number is 9-9-9 in Britain and 0-0-0 in Australia, 1-1-2 is used in all the EU (including Britain) and Switzerland. See the second external link below for a list.
  • If you are at a large business or school, you may have to dial another number (i.e. 9+911) to access 911. Other phone systems will put the call through with simply 911 even if they normally require dialing a code for an outside line.
  • 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.
  • 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 (e.g. CPR instructions, the Heimlich Maneuver). If you are not physically able, or are afraid to carry out the instructions given to you, try to find someone else who is with you and can carry out the instructions.
  • If nothing else, know the location of your emergency. Without this information, the dispatcher may not know where to send the emergency responders. Most phones, however, are GPS-capable, which means that there is a chipset in the phone that will help provide location information to a PSAP when a caller dials 911.
  • 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.
  • 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 communities offer an alternative number, often 3-1-1, for reporting important situations that do not meet the criteria of requiring an immediate emergency response, but require an urgent response by some public safety agency nonetheless. Check with your local telephone company or municipal government agency to determine whether such a number exists in your community, and to find out what it is. 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). These are obviously only a few examples, but one should get the idea.
  • Teach your children how to use 911. Practice with a pretend phone, and make sure they understand it's important to call 911 only in an emergency!
  • 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.
  • If the emergency occurs during the night, and there is a definite address of the location of the emergency [e.g. your household], be certain that the address is clearly visible so that First Responders/EMS can easily locate you.
  • 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.
  • 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 he/she is asking the questions.
  • Most 9-1-1 centers have an automatic contingency whereby if their system is overtaxed and they are unable to answer incoming 9-1-1 calls, the call is instantly rerouted to another 9-1-1 center, possibly in another county (parish). Keep this in mind when providing directions and so forth, as the call-taker may not be familiar with the area you are calling about and may not be able to follow your directions.
  • If you can't talk for whatever reason, tap the phone or dial 5 twice to let the operator know you're there.
  • Contact your local police department to see if they have the option to sign up for texting services if you are deaf or have other disabilities that effect using a phone to call.
  • Get out of the area of the emergency before you call 911.
  • Give information as best as you can.


  • In a hostage situation, where you are held hostage by an armed man, calling 9-1-1 could be dangerous. A tip to try to get help is to call 911 and then put the phone beside you, leaving it on the line. The operators cannot hang up: They will hear if something is happening, like if the gunman is talking. But more than likely people may have already been dispatched to your location, as it's easy to spot a hostage situation (you can't get into the building/area!).
  • Do not practice calling 911 using the actual 911 number. You can make an emergency call only when a real emergency occurs.
  • Never 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!
  • 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 is to help in emergencies.
  • Do not use de-activated cell phones to practice calling 911 with your children as these calls will very likely be connected.
  • Do not make hoax calls to 911. It is a crime everywhere, and it can delay the Emergency Services from responding to genuine emergencies that require more immediate action.
  • If you are in a third world, non-English speaking country, chances are the emergency number won't be 911. If you have to call emergency services and you do not speak the language of that country, ask the operator if he/she speaks English, but don't be surprised if he/she simply hangs up on you.
  • If you live in other countries (except Canada and a few others), you do not have 911. You may have 000 (Australia),999 (UK),119,112 (EU) or if you live in New Zealand, it's 111 to call instead. However, use those numbers in the same way you use 911 and follow the same steps.

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Categories: Phone Skills