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Calling 911: when to call, information to provide

ASU Police Dispatcher
September 26, 2013

What do you do if you witness a crime? Have you ever hesitated when you saw something and wondered if the situation really warrants a call to 911?

According to ASU Police, if you think it warrants a 911 call, it probably does. Calling 911 rather than wondering about it or calling a non-emergency number wastes valuable time when it may matter the most.

Keep in mind that police department dispatchers who answer 911 calls ask questions in order to provide the most detailed information possible to police officers responding to the call so they can know what to look for and what to expect.

“Police dispatchers are our first line of emergency information,” said ASU Police Department Sergeant Daniel Macias. 

Here are answers to common questions about 911.

When should I call 911?

Call 911 in situations when an immediate response from a police officer, fire department or ambulance is needed, including crimes in progress, car accidents, fires, serious medical conditions or injuries. Don’t call 911 for information, directory assistance, noise complaints or as a prank. 911 lines that are tied up may delay a response for a true emergency.

How does the 911 system work?

When 911 is dialed from a landline, the system provides a police dispatcher with the caller’s phone number, address, building name and location. For cell phone calls, the call is routed to the closest cell tower and the police department assigned to the area. Dispatchers receive information such as the latitude/longitude coordinates of the phone.  

What if I am calling from a location that is different from where the emergency is occurring?

Tell the dispatcher as much as possible about the location where they should respond, including where it is located, an address, building name and/or location description. 

What should I expect when I dial 911?

Dispatchers are trained to ask a series of questions to determine the appropriate emergency response.  Questions may seem obvious or redundant, but they’re necessary to ensure that the appropriate type of help is sent to the correct location. Basic questions include: who, what, where, how and why. In an emergency, the dispatcher may take control of the call to obtain the most important information first. Their primary goal is to keep everyone safe.

If the caller has a medical emergency, the dispatcher transfers the caller to the fire department, where their dispatcher provides medical instruction while the fire department and/or ambulance travel to the scene.

What if the caller does not speak English?

The dispatcher has the ability to add an interpreter to the call at any time. 

What if the caller is hearing impaired?

The 911 system is equipped with a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD). If there is no sound on a 911 call, the dispatcher will check for a TDD call. A hearing-impaired caller can begin typing immediately to signal the dispatcher.

Do I have to dial ‘9’ first when calling from an ASU phone?

No. The system is programmed to recognize 911 with or without dialing ‘9’.

What if I accidentally dial 911?

Always stay on the line. If the dispatcher is unable to verify that there is no emergency, officers will be dispatched to check the location from which the call originated.

Is the 911 system reliable?

Yes. Since 1968, when the first 911 call was made, the system has evolved and incorporated new technology to keep communities safe. 911 technology that is supported through trained dispatch professionals provides the community with the most reliable systems available nationwide to assist in an emergency.