Know Your 911


When an emergency happens, 911 can be a real lifesaver. But it's important to understand how it works.


Photo of patient being rushed on a gurney911 should only be called in an emergency.

If you need police, fire or emergency medical services, that's the time to dial 911. You shouldn't call 911 if your dog is lost or you need help cooking the Thanksgiving turkey.


Never hang up if you dial 911 by mistake! Instead, stay on the line and explain to the call taker that you dialed 911 by accident.


When calling 911, remain calm.

Photo of a woman on cell phoneSpeak clearly and follow any instructions the call taker may give. The call taker will confirm your name, address and the phone number from which you are calling. Do not hang up until the call taker tells you it's o.k. to hang up.


Know where you are.

When you call 911, the call taker will ask you what type of emergency for which you are calling and the location of the emergency. It's always good to be aware of your surrroundings, in case the need to call for help arises.


Click here to learn what you need to know to give a good decription to a 911 call taker.


In many 911 emergencies, the call taker will ask you to describe either the people or the vehicles involved in the emergency.


When describing a person, start at the top of the head and work your way down:

  • What is the race and gender of the person?
  • How tall is/was the person?
  • What is/was the person's hair color?
  • What is/was the person wearing?
  • Did/does the person have any facial hair or anything that stands out?

When describing a vehicle, the call taker will ask for the following information:

  • Color
  • Make of vehicle
  • Year of vehicle (or approximation)
  • Body style
  • Additional description
  • License plate on vehicle

(Click on the tab again to close.)


The phone you use to call 911 makes a difference.


The phone you use makes a difference.

Photo of a man on a payphoneTraditional wire line (a.k.a. "land line") phones give 911 call takers an automatic display of the address and telephone number of the person calling 911, although they will still verify your name, address and phone number when you call from a wire line phone. Because the 911 call center has the information almost instantly when you call from a wire line phone, it allows them to quickly send emergency services and avoid delays that could endanger a person's life or property.


It is free to call 911 from any payphone, if you can find one. And best of all, 911 call takers have an automatic display of the location of the phone.


Cellular telephones that have location technology (global positioning system, or GPS) are able to provide an approximate location of the caller. This technology is considered accurate if it displays the cellular caller's location within 300 yards (length of three football fields).


VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telephone service may appear to work like a traditional phone, except it actually connects via the Internet to a phone line. Before you call 911 using a VoIP phone, you should know if your name, address and callback number will be displayed for the 911 call taker, and also if the 911 call you make will be sent to the 911 call center that responds to the town where you're currently located. Contact your VoIP provider for additional information about accessing 911.



TTY/TDD are a group of telecommunication devices that enable deaf and/or mute people to talk on the telephone. TTY stands for "telephone typewriter," "teletypewriter" or "text phone." TDD stands for "Telecommunications Device for the Deaf."


Call-taking equipment for 911 has built-in TTY capability. All public safety leaders are trained how to respond to a TTY call. Remember that tapping the sidebar quickly lets call takers know that the call is from a TTY user.