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Five Worst Reasons to Call 911

911 Should Only be Called in an Emergency


Updated October 29, 2008

911 was created as a universal American emergency number to summon police, ambulance, or fire service help. According to The National Emergency Number Association (NENA), approximately 200 million 911 calls are made in the U.S. each year.

911 is meant for emergencies. There are certainly times when you should call 911 rather than go to the doctor. It's also important to know how to be a good 911 caller.

Unfortunately, not every call to 911 is an emergency. Some callers are seeking information rather than help. Others are simply abusing the system. In fact, in every state, it's illegal to call 911 without an emergency.

Here are my picks for worst reasons to call 911. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find more and submit your own.

1. Testing to See if the Phone Works

911 will always be answered, but that doesn't mean it should be called. The California Highway Patrol is responsible for answering all wireless 911 calls made in California. Every year on Christmas morning, the CHP receives an increase in 911 calls from cell phones given as gifts. These calls take up valuable communication lines and may block emergency calls from making it to a dispatcher.

One reader claims his town sent out letters encouraging folks to call 911 to make sure their addresses came up correctly. He suggested everyone do the same. Other readers found that a very bad idea. To read their comments and submit your own, visit the First Aid Forum.

2. Getting the Number for the Police Department

When callers need a non-emergency number for police, fire, or ambulance, they should call 411, not 911. Any time a caller feels his or her life is in danger, he or she should call 911 - otherwise, use a nonemergency number.

3. To Ask the Police-Fire-Ambulance Agency a Question

If a caller is not in need of assistance immediately, 911 is probably the wrong number to call. When calling to ask a question and not to request immediate assistance, call the department's non-emergency number.

4. Teaching Kids to Call 911

While it is exremely important to teach kids to call 911, it's a really bad idea to actually have them do it when there is no emergency. Kids learn by example. If mom and dad seem to think it's OK to call 911 just to practice, then they will, too.

5. To Get a Cat Out of a Tree

Calling for help with animals in distress is perfectly fine - just don't call 911. Only call 911 regarding animals if the animal is endangering humans. 911 is intended for human emergencies only, all calls to request assistance for animals lost or in distress should go to an agency's non-emergency number.

Do you have a story of 911 calls gone bad? Scroll down to the bottom of the page. There you'll be able to tell us about the worst reasons to call 911 and read about other bad ideas.

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