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How To Call 911 Effectively

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Updated January 23, 2014

Calling 911 is very stressful and it's easy to feel overwhelmed. 911 call-takers are trained to guide callers through the experience, but knowing what to expect can help make the 911 call go smoothly and get emergency help where and when it's needed.

Know the difference between calling 911 from a landline phone and calling 911 on a cell phone. Know when to call 911 and the worst calls to 911. If you choose to call 911, know what to expect and how to react.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Until the 911 call-taker hangs up

Here's How:

  1. Stay calm. It's important to take a deep breath and not get excited. Any situation that requires 911 is, by definition, an emergency. The dispatcher or call-taker knows that and will try to move things along quickly, but under control.

     

  2. Know the location of the emergency and the number you are calling from. This may be asked and answered a couple of times but don't get frustrated. Even though many 911 centers have enhanced capabilities -- meaning they are able to see your location on the computer screen -- they are still required to confirm the information. If for some reason you are disconnected, at least emergency crews will know where to go and how to call you back.

    As the call progresses, you will hear clicking - do not hang up!

     

  3. Wait for the call-taker to ask questions, then answer clearly and calmly. If you are in danger of assault, the dispatcher or call-taker will still need you to answer quietly, mostly "yes" and "no" questions.

     

  4. If you reach a recording, listen to what it says. If the recording says your call cannot be completed, hang up and try again. If the recording says all call-takers are busy, wait! When the next call-taker or dispatcher is available to take the call, it will transfer you.

     

  5. Let the call-taker guide the conversation. He or she is typing the information into a computer and may seem to be taking forever. There's a good chance, however, that emergency services are already being sent while you are still on the line.

     

  6. Follow all directions. In some cases, the call-taker will give you directions. Listen carefully, follow each step exactly, and ask for clarification if you don't understand.

     

  7. Keep your eyes open. You may be asked to describe victims, suspects, vehicles, or other parts of the scene.

     

  8. Do not hang up the call until directed to do so by the call-taker.

     

Tips:

  1. No matter what happens - Stay Calm.

     

  2. Cell phones may not tell the call-taker where you are. Know the differences when calling 911 on a cell phone.

     

  3. Never program 911 into your automatic dialer (phone memory). You're not going to forget the number and accidental 911 calls are more likely with auto-dialers. If someone calls 911 and doesn't speak, emergency services must still be dispatched.

     

What You Need:

  • A phone.
  • A deep breath.
  • To know where you are.
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