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 land line phone and calling 911 on a cell phone. Know how and when to call 911. If you need to call 911, know what to expect and how to react.

How to call 911
  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.
  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.
When Should You Call 911?
Nine-1-1 is only to be used ONLY in emergency situations. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police, the fire department or an ambulance. If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency you should call 911. It's better to be safe and let the 911 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

Examples of When to Call 911:
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • House fire
  • Domestic violence
  • Burglary or theft in progress
  • Car accidents
  • Suspicious activities
  • Anything else that seems like an emergency!
Do Not Call 911
  • for information
  • when the power is out
  • to report a broken fire hydrant
  • when your water pipes burst
  • to get a ride for doctor's appointment
  • for paying tickets
  • for your pet
  • as a prank
Never Prank Call 911
It's a prank call when someone calls 911 for a joke, or calls 911 and hangs up. If 911 lines or call takers are busy with prank calls, someone with a real emergency may not be able to get the help they need. It's against the law to make prank 911 calls.

Calling 911 on a cell phone
When you call 911 emergency responders can find you - even if you don't know where you are or can't communicate. That's because calling 911 from a landline (a telephone connected to the lines on the poles) makes a computer in the dispatch center show the number and address of the phone you're using.

Cell Phones Don't Work the Same When you make a 911 call on a cell phone, you are sending signals through the air. The tower that picks up your phone's signal may be near, but it isn't enough to tell the dispatcher where to find you. It's like playing "Marco Polo" in the pool - blindfolded with just sound to guide you. The Federal Communications Commission has required that all wireless carriers be able to pinpoint your location for the 911 dispatchers, but the rule is coming in phases and there are plenty of exceptions.

Location, Location, Location When you call 911 from a cell phone, the call often lands in a regional center. A call-taker in a far-away city or county may answer your call. To get help to you, there are 2 pieces of information the call-taker needs to know immediately:
  1. Tell the call-taker which city you're calling from.
  2. Tell the call-taker what type of emergency you have.
Different emergency services use different dispatch centers. With the right information, the call-taker will transfer you to the right center.

Any Phone Will Do Wireless carriers are required to complete 911 calls, even when the phone is not activated. Any phone that turns on and can receive a signal is capable of making a 911 call. The problem is: if the phone you're using isn't activated, there isn't a phone number assigned to it. That means if you're disconnected from the dispatch center, you must call 911 back. They will not have a way to call you.

Stay calm be clear Professional call-takers are trained to get information from you. They're staring at a computer screen that has all the relevant questions. Listen carefully, and answer as concisely as possible. Remember, responders can only respond if they know where they're going. Make sure you get the location as detailed as possible.