10 things to know before calling 911

  1. Make sure you are safe and the scene is safe. If it is not safe, go somewhere that it is safe. Take a breath and stay calm. Screaming doesn't help you communicate better--It makes the situation worse.
  2. DO NOT HANG UP UNTIL THE DISPATCHER TELLS YOU TO DO SO! This cannot be emphasized enough. Sometimes the dispatchers are on other calls. If you are asked to hold, DO NOT HANG UP. They could be communicating the problem to co-workers, dispatching people to help you, or they are getting additional information from other sources. They will get back with you. If you get disconnected for any reason, call back using 911.
  3. Know where you are. They need to know where you are so help can be sent to you. If you are calling from a home telephone (hard wired), it is likely that they have your address. The dispatcher will confirm that address. These calls are only about 25% of the calls. If you are calling from your cell phone, the dispatcher may or may not know where you are. Some phones only give the location of the nearest cellular tower Don't get frustrated if the dispatcher asks at lot of questions. They are trained to ask specific questions so they can get the resources to you ASAP.
  4. Tell the dispatcher if anyone needs medical attention. They will ask you if the person is conscious and breathing.
  5. Be observant. If there is a suspect, do you know the name, age, hair color, clothing description, tattoos? Any information is helpful. If it involves a vehicle, get the license plate number, make and type of vehicle, color of vehicle.
  6. Let the dispatcher know if there are any weapons involved. Is the suspect armed with any potentially dangerous item (including firearms, knives, etc.)?
  7. You can still communicate with the dispatcher if a suspect is listening. They listen for other people talking or shouting, breaking glass, etc.
  8. If you have telephone service through your cable television provider (known as VoIP or Voice-Over Internet Protocol), you can't call 911 unless you have your router connected to a generator or other power supply.
  9. You can remain anonymous.
  10. If you call 911 by mistake, don't hang up. Stay on the line and tell the dispatcher it was a mistake. If you hang up, they will call you back and send a police officer to your location.


The following are very helpful when describing people:

  • Approximate Age
  • Clothing Description
  • Complexion
  • Eye Color
  • Facial Hair
  • Glasses
  • Hair color
  • Race
  • Scars, Marks or Tattoos
  • Sex
  • Speech Impediment or Accent


The following are very helpful when describing vehicles:

  • Body Style 
  • Color     
  • Dents / Marks
  • Direction of Travel    
  • License Plate Number
  • Make
  • State
  • Year    

911 Information Flowchart