Know WHEN to call 911.
911 is for emergencies only. You should only be dialing 911 if someone is hurt or in danger, or if you are in immediate need of police, fire, or medical assistance. If you aren’t sure if your situation is an emergency, you should err on the side of safety and call 911 and let the expert who answers your call make the decision whether to send help or not.
Know when NOT to call 911.
Don’t call 911 just because you burned dinner and your guests are arriving any minute, or because you are late for a meeting and need help finding an address. While those situations may count as emergencies for you, they aren’t for public safety. Inappropriate use of the 911 system wastes resources and ties up the lines at the 911 center, and nobody wants to be on hold when they are in the middle of a real crisis. Not to mention that in most states harassing or making prank calls to 911 is a crime, and you don’t want law enforcement showing up at your door.
Know the capabilities of the device you are using.
911 can be contacted from pretty much every device that can make phone calls (traditional landline, cell, VoIP), but the callback and location information that accompanies your call to the 911 center can vary drastically among technologies and between geographic regions. 911 and telecommunications professionals are hard at work to make sure 911 works the same on all devices in the future, but until then it is your job to be knowledgeable about benefits and limitations associated with various technologies. Contact your service provider(s) for more information.
Know where you are.
This is probably the most important information you can provide as a 911 caller, so try to be aware of your surroundings. Make a real effort to be as detailed as possible. If you are outside and don’t know the street address, take a look around and try to find landmarks or cross streets. If you are inside a large building or one with multiple levels, you can help emergency services by letting them know which floor you are on, which apartment you are in, etc.
When you are on the phone with 911, you are their eyes and ears. Even though you may want to, try not to panic. If you are crying or yelling, it can be hard for the 911 operator to understand you. If you are able to stay strong, pull yourself together, and answer all of the 911 operator’s questions, the faster they can get the right services to your location.
Never hang up.
You may have called 911 by accident, or your situation may have resolved itself, but it is important to let the 911 operator know this. If you end the call abruptly, the folks at the 911 center are going to assume that something has gone very wrong and will either call you back or send help anyway. This will take away from the 911 center’s ability to take calls and dispatch services to on-going emergencies, so make sure the 911 call taker tells you it is ok to disconnect before you hang up. And keep in mind that the call taker can dispatch responders to your location without disconnecting from the call, so, until you are instructed to do otherwise, make sure to hold the line so that you can provide any necessary information or assistance to the 911 operator.
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