What Happens When You Call 911?

What Happens When You Call 911?

Every time you hear a siren from a police car, an ambulance or fire engine, a whole chain of events has already occurred, most likely starting with a call to 911. And as those emergency vehicles go screaming down the road, vital information is simultaneously being communicated to responders as they speed to the scene.

For the estimated 240 million people who call 911 every year, they know what it’s like to have their fate held in the hands of a stranger. 911 Operators receive calls from all walks of life, and from every end of the emergency spectrum. Everything from car crashes, to heart attacks, falls, imminent births, to break ins – just to name a few.

So, what happens behind the scenes when you call a 911 operator?

Emergency services practices may vary from area to area, however, there are a few universal questions that are asked across the board:

“This is 911, what is….

  • Your exact address or location? Be sure to include full address, apartment number, floor number, access codes, landmarks, and any other important information that pinpoints your location. You will be asked to repeat this.
  • Your phone number? If calling from a landline, your phone number and address will pop up on the screen, but this won’t happen if you call from a cell phone. Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address, so it’s important to follow these guidelines from the FCC. The operator will ask you to repeat the number and will also ask what the best call back number is.
  • The problem or type of incident? “Exactly what happened?”
  • Approximate age of the victim?
  • Are they conscious?
  • Are they bleeding?
  • Are they breathing? Dispatchers are trained to provide real-time instruction in CPR, and life-saving first aid, while an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) team travels to your location.
  • Are you safe or still in danger? If you are not able to communicate effectively, dispatchers will ask questions like, “are you able to talk to me now?” They listen for clues, background noises, the caller’s tone of voice, breathing pattern, and then determine if additional help is needed.

In a matter of minutes, operators prioritize the information they’ve gathered from your responses to discern the type and severity of the emergency, and alert secondary response teams – be it the police, EMS, or the fire department. In the case of a serious car accident all the above will be summoned.

What about if you don’t speak English? While some call centers have bilingual operators, smaller 911 centers rely on a call-in translator service. In that case, a translator will join the call and help the caller and operator to communicate effectively.

When you are faced with a situation that mandates calling 911, the most important thing you can do is LISTEN to what the operators says. Answer their questions to the best of your ability and follow their directions. They will remain on the phone with you until help arrives, and if you accidently get disconnected, they will call you back.

Through blizzards, monsoons, and earthquakes, 911 operators are there for you. They perform a job that requires an incredible amount of training, innate skills, and compassion to help people through emergencies – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. These operators have a huge amount of responsibility on their shoulders and play a critical role in the safety of our communities.

Even if you aren’t sure if a situation is an emergency, call anyway. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.