911 – What Everyone Thinks They Know, But Actually Needs to Know

April is National 9-1-1 Education month, but this information couldn’t wait until then. Nick is a Firefighter II /EMS, and a professional 911 Dispatcher with years of intense training and hands-on experience. He wrote and shared this terribly important information with me.

Please take time to read the entire post, then be sure to share it with everyone you know and care about.

911 calls are not three digit magic wands followed by immediate assistance – you, the caller, play a vital role in improving the chances for a person’s survival, or for saving property from total loss.

The more people know about what happens when they call 9-1-1, the faster and smoother the process will go.

The more people plan for emergencies, the better things will go when an emergency does strike.

General 911 Tips:

Call 911 For Emergencies Only:

Because every community has a limited number of 911 lines and 911 Call-Takers, every non-emergency call can delay desperately needed help for a choking baby or a burning house.

Know Your Location And Tell The Call-Taker:

Not all phones give the 911 Call-Taker your location; the 911 Call-Taker has to know where the emergency is in order to send help.

Give Information And Follow All Instructions:

911 Call-Takers need certain information to send the right help. Therefore, every question they ask is vital. Giving the 911 Call-Taker the information they ask for can save lives.

Information is more important than speed in emergencies.

Your 911 Call-Taker has been trained to provide the most helpful instructions. Listen to them and ask questions if you don’t understand. Follow their instructions carefully.

911 FAQs

What is 911 For?

911 is the number to call for emergencies. For example:

You should call 911 if your car is being stolen right now; if you have any type of medical emergency; if your neighbor’s house is on fire; or if there is any true emergency.

You should not call 911 to report that your car was stolen last night and the suspect is gone; because of loud music; or to ask legal questions.

Calling 911 when there is not an emergency can keep people with actual emergencies from getting help … and you can be arrested.

What are 911 Centers?

911 Call Centers are the nerve centers of Emergency Services. These professional centers dispatch appropriate responders and provide these responders with the vital information they must have to do their jobs effectively. Emergency responders are often part of your local Fire Department, Police Department, or Sheriff’s Department.

Should I call 911?

Only if you have an emergency.

An emergency is defined as: “a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property or environment”.

If you are not sure, call 911 and let the 911 Call-Taker decide.

If you know that you do not have an emergency, but need to reach law enforcement, call the department’s non-emergency number found in your phone book. Some examples: an incident that happened over an hour ago, and the suspect is gone; if you need a burning permit; or if you have a billing question for emergency medical services.

Remember to keep 911 available for those who really need it.

What should I do when I call 911?

First provide the 911 Call-Taker with the location of the emergency and with your location. If the call is disconnected, no matter how severe the situation may be, no help can be sent unless the 911 Call-Taker knows where to send the help.

Location is the first and most vital piece of information for 911.

Provide the 911 Call-Taker with the information they ask for and follow the 911 Call-Takers instructions. 911 Call-Takers go through intensive training and do more than just operate a phone system – let them guide the conversation. They are highly trained professional members of the Emergency Services Team. Arguing with the 911 Call-Taker or asking them why a piece of information is needed wastes time.

Provide information and follow instructions.

Have the courage to control your emotions to help those in need. Help can be given to those experiencing emergencies more appropriately, effectively and quickly when 911 callers are able to remain calm. Give 911 Call-Takers all the information they ask for clearly and slowly. If you are overly excited and shout, cry, scream or argue, it is much harder for the 911 Call-Taker to understand you. You may have to spend more time repeating information. Cell phones in particular can mute your voice if it is over a certain decibel level. Everyone can control their emotions although it can be very difficult at times. Remember that it takes courage to be calm, but being calm can save lives.

Remain calm and speak clearly when reporting an emergency.

What if I did not mean to call 911?

DO NOT HANG UP. Again – Do Not Hang Up!

Stay on the line since it takes more time for 911 Call-Takers to call back a phone number from an incomplete 911 call than for you to explain what happened.

Do not hang up! Just stay on the line and explain accidental 911 calls.

Will the 911 Call-Taker know where I am?

Maybe not. That is why it is so important to tell the Call-Taker where the emergency is and where you are.

Cell phone companies can take several seconds to a minute or even longer to provide the 911 Center with your approximate location when you call 911 – if they are able to provide this information at all. And there is no way to know if you are at the same or different location as the emergency.

If  calling from a multi-line office phone, your call may go to the 911 center where your main office is located and that physical address may be sent to the 911 Call Center instead of where you are actually calling from.

If you use a VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service, the 911 Call-Taker has access only to the information you have given the VOIP phone company.

Make sure this information is correct. Your life may depend on it.

If you call 911 and cannot speak (in cases of choking or having been taken hostage, for example), the 911 Telecommunicators only have access to the address that was last on file with the VOIP company. People often forget to update this information when they move. As a result, your 911 call may go the the city you used to live in instead of the city you live in now.

Always tell the Call-Taker where the emergency is and where you are.

Why does the 911 Call-Taker need my phone number?

If your call is disconnected for any reason, the 911 Call-Taker may need to call you back. Even if the 911 Call-Taker gets your phone number from the phone company, they will want to verify that it is correct.

Why do 911 Call-Takers ask so many questions instead of sending help?

All 911 Telecommunicators,including Call-Takers and Dispatchers, ask questions and send help – at almost the same time. 911 Telecommunicators gather any information necessary for Responders to quickly choose the appropriate equipment and prepare for your particular emergency. Quickly, the 911 Telecommunicators also dispatch the Responders while providing the caller with instructions whenever possible.

On a average day in the United States, 911 Call-Centers receive over 650,000 calls.

All over the country, 911 Call-Centers handle a wide variety of emergencies in the safest and best manner possible. Too often, centers in many communities struggle with limited staffing and a limited number of 911 lines. The outcome of emergencies is not determined by how little time the 911 Call-Taker spends on the phone with you, but depends in large part upon 911 Call-Takers getting vital, accurate, and complete information for Responders. Emergency Responders rely upon this information in order to do their jobs properly. 911 Call-Takers do not ask questions to waste time. They ask questions to save lives.

Should I Tell the 911 Call-Taker to Hurry or Whom to Send?

No. Don’t waste time by telling the Call-Taker any of the following:

  1. Who to Dispatch: 911 Centers have protocols about who to dispatch to what kind of emergency.
  2. To Hurry: 911 Call-Takers are trained to handle calls as quickly as possible and to remain calm. Just because the 911 Call-Taker does not seem rushed or excited does not mean they do not care about what is happening or that they do not think the Emergency is serious. Remaining calm is faster than getting excited.
  3. Not to Use Emergency Lights and Sirens: Responders use the information 911 Call-Takers gather to determine if and when they need to use emergency lights and sirens. There is an increased risk of traffic collisions while responding to incidents with the use of lights and sirens, and Responders must weigh that risk against how time-critical the emergency is.
  4. The Information Asked For is Irrelevant: It takes 911 Call-Takers more time to explain why they gather certain information than it does to actually gather the information. Remember, 911 Call-Takers are highly trained and have protocols about what information to gather when they receive an emergency call.
  5. How to Handle Your Call: Sometimes people become so excited during an emergency, that they try to argue with the 911 Call-Taker. They think this will speed things along.911 Call-Takers follow a highly structured process to gather essential information in the quickest manner possible and any deviation from this only slows things down. 911 Call-Takers handle countless emergencies during their careers and know that Responders must have accurate and appropriate information to provide the best possible aid in emergencies. Correct and thorough information is just as necessary to a Responder as any piece of equipment.

Other Resources:

A great and easy to make Home Emergency Plan:


This is an important form to have on or in your refrigerator and wallet:


I like this form as well, but I leave the Social Security number portion blank:


And finally, for more information check out:











Thanks for taking the time to read this and to prepare yourself. Knowing what to expect when an emergency strikes and what may happen when you call 911 can save a life.

Thank you for forwarding and sharing this information to help get the word out.

Your comments are always appreciated.

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