9-1-1 is for emergencies only and should be used when someone is injured, endangered, or in need of immediate police, fire, or medical assistance. If you are not sure if your situation is an emergency, call 9-1-1 to be safe. Do NOT call 9-1-1 if your situation is not an emergency.
DO NOT call 9-1-1 for any of the following reasons:
- To find out the number for the police department, fire department, etc.
- To test to see if the phone works
- To teach you child how to call 9-1-1
- To ask non-emergency questions
- To get a cat out of a tree (9-1-1 is reserved primarily for human emergencies. Calling an agency’s non-emergency number for this is perfectly fine).
Every police department, rescue squad, and fire department has a separate phone number that should be called for non-emergency situations. Inappropriate use of 9-1-1 takes up valuable resources and ties up the line, which could force someone in a real emergency to be put on hold. Beyond that, it is illegal to call 9-1-1 in most states for non-emergency situations.
When calling 9-1-1, know your location and remain calm
While it is true that 9-1-1 can be reached by just about any device that can make phone calls (landlines, cell phones, etc.), the callback and location information that accompanies your call may vary drastically from device to device. When calling 9-1-1, be aware of where you are and be as detailed as possible. If you do not know the street address or exactly where you are, try to find landmarks. Also, if you are in an apartment or multi-floor building, provide what floor and room number you are in. Remain calm. If you are yelling or panicking, it makes it more difficult for the 9-1-1 operator to understand you. If you can remain composed and answer all of the operator’s questions calmly, help can arrive faster.
Don’t just hang up!
Whether you dialed 9-1-1 by mistake or the situation resolves itself, you should let the operator know this information. If you abruptly hang up the phone, the operator is going to assume the situation has gone from bad to worse and either call you back or send help anyway. This will tie up resources and limit the center’s capabilities to take calls and send services to other emergencies. It is important to wait until the operator tells you to disconnect before hanging up. REMEMBER: the operator can dispatch responders to your location without disconnecting from the call so make sure you stay on the line and provide any information or assistance to the 9-1-1 operator that you can.
Additional Information regarding emergencies and emergency preparedness can be found at the American Red Cross