When You Should Call 911.
Health and Wellness

You're Taught To Call 911 In An Emergency, So Make Sure It's REALLY An Emergency

Don't waste resources that someone else with a real emergency needs.


Everyone knows that 911 is for emergencies — or at least that is what everyone says. According to a study done by Arizona State University, in some areas, non-emergency calls were up to 50 percent of the calls that they received in their centers. Across the United States there are about 500,000 calls per day. These calls are divvied up between the 5,748 answering centers in the United States. Depending on where you are the call volume may be higher.

The question you may be asking now is, what is an emergency? Currently, there is not a nationwide standard to say how each call is prioritized. There is not one that tells us how quickly an officer will respond either. These are all individual to the agency. There are some standards that are across the board that most agencies will ask.

The first thing most 911 operators will ask when you call 911 is "what is the emergency?" The answers will range, sometimes the answer will be, "it could be an emergency." That is usually the first indication, that it is not an emergency. It either is an emergency or it's not.

Are there weapons involved? For the safety of everyone involved, including those responding, the dispatcher wants to know if there are weapons involved. When there are simple disagreements with a weapon present it can quickly escalate. The next thing they want to know is if anyone has been injured. Surprisingly, people often forget to talk about the injuries they have received because of the adrenaline. Any time someone needs medical attention it is an emergency.

When did it happen? It might seem like a no-brainer if you call 911 it is for something that is happening right now. That is not always the case. When a person comes home to find that their home was ransacked after vacation they can't say for sure when it happened. The other option is that someone just got home, and they didn't have a cell phone to call.

Is the suspect still there? This one is important. Even if it happened two hours ago and the person who started it is still there, it means there is a chance it can start up again. It also means that law enforcement has a high chance of suspect apprehension.

Calling 911 is a serious matter. The person who picks up the line is waiting for someone who has just lost a loved one, a major accident or a missing child. When the call comes in to complain about the sticky rice at the Chinese restaurant, it can be rather frustrating.

There are some things that you can do to be prepared. Look up the number of your local law enforcement. The police department and the county sheriff's office. If you don't know if you are county or city, call on the non-emergency line and they will be able to help you out. The next thing is remembering details. Each 911 operator is trained to ask specific questions. Once they get the address they are already sending people out. That information is to help law enforcement do their job.

The next time you think of calling 911, ask yourself, is this REALLY an emergency?

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