Tips for Making Your 911 Call More Productive

Behind the Scenes: Tips for Making Your
911 Call More Productive

by Marjory Earle, President, Froula Alarm Systems

When you have a life-threatening emergency or a crime is in progress, you need a fast response. That’s when it’s time to call 911. This behind the scenes look gives you an idea of how to make your next 911 call more productive so you get the right help as quickly as possible.

Medical Emergency
Call 911 and explain immediately that you have a medical emergency. In some locations, such as at the Seattle Police Department 911 Call Center, your call will immediately be forwarded to the fire department’s 911 system so they can quickly send medics to your location.

Non-Medical Emergency
For non-medical emergencies, provide the following information, in order as listed, to expedite the response.

Name, Phone Number and Location
As soon as you reach the 911 dispatcher, immediately give them your name and phone number. Tell them your location if you’re calling from a cell phone. If you don’t know the street address, mention landmarks, a building name, company name or other relevant details. Tell the operator what floor you’re on if you need help above the first floor.

Type of Emergency
Briefly explain why you are calling. If you need medical attention as well as other types of help, say so immediately.

If you prefer to remain anonymous, quickly explain this to the dispatcher.

If you need to provide a description of a suspect, follow this outline. Wait for the dispatcher to ask for the description in case there are other questions they need answered first:
- Sex
- Race
- Height/Weight
- Clothing –– start from the head down to the shoes, including color of shirt under jacket
- Glasses
- Unique Facial Characteristics
Hair color/style
Facial hair
Shape of facial features, including mouth, ears, lips, nose, neck and cheeks
Shape of eyes and eyebrows
- Weapon type
- Direction in which the perpetrator ran or drove
- Vehicle make and model, color, year and license number

Let Dispatch Take Control
Once you provide basic information, let the dispatcher take over the call. They will ask pertinent questions to quickly determine what type of help to send to you. Even if the questions they ask seem irrelevant, answer them as best you can, since the operator is trying to determine your situation and prioritize it accordingly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, and the dispatcher can move to another line of questioning to give officers or medics valuable information about the situation.

As you provide answers, the operator enters the information into a computer-assisted dispatch system, known as CAD. The dispatcher will send the proper resources while you’re still on the phone, so answer questions concisely and accurately.

DO NOT hang up until the operator tells you it is okay to do so.

TIP: If you call 911 by mistake, stay on the line and don’t hang up.
Otherwise, the operator is required to call you back to ask if you need help.
Those extra seconds spent calling you because you hung up in
embarrassment could result in a delay in
help for someone who really needs it.

How Calls Are Prioritized
All 911 calls are prioritized according to precedence. For instance, calls coming into the Seattle Police Department 911 Call Center are prioritized as follows:

Precedence 1: Top priority emergency, such as a burglary in progress, shootings, domestic violence or life-threatening medical emergency.

Precedence 2: Expedited response where no one’s life is in danger. Includes hit and runs, fights and events where the perpetrator could still be caught.

Precedence 3: Suspicious activities that aren’t necessarily crimes. Includes calls about criminal activities that occurred recently where the chances of catching the perpetrator are less likely.