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When Should You Dial 911?

Emergencies come suddenly and in different ways. While having a first aid kit in your home can come in handy during emergencies, calling 911 links you to immediate help.

All you need to do is to dial 911 and inform the 911 dispatcher what and where the emergency is.

In this post, we help answer the question: when should you dial 911? 

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What’s a 911 Call?

911 is the universal emergency number that anybody living in the USA can dial. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in 1967 met with AT&T to set up the emergency number.

They aimed at getting a number that was not only short but one that was easy to remember.

What will the Dispatcher do?

The dispatcher will ask you a few questions.

Answer these in the best way you can.

Hold on to the line and follow all the instructions you receive as you wait for help to arrive.

Never call 911 unless the issue is an emergency.

Remember, 911 is designed to assist in situations that involve fires, medical emergencies, or ongoing crime.

If you witness someone get injured, hurt, or get involved in another type of emergency, waste no time.

Some of the emergencies that would prompt you to make a 911 call include: 

  • A fire that’s beyond control
  • An accident
  • An assault, burglary, or an ongoing crime
  • If someone needs a medical emergency – such as stroke, heart attack, and seizure
  • When you witness a seriously injured person who’s either in shock or bleeding severely

What Happens When You Call 911 – Video

When Should I Call 911?

Here is more information on when you should contact 911.

When Experiencing an Acute Allergic Reaction

If you or someone else starts showing signs of an acute allergic reaction such as swelling of the tongue, difficulty in breathing, and an increased heart rate, you want to call 911 immediately.

Remember, acute allergic reactions can cause death in less than one hour and you could have limited time to save the individual’s life. 

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When having Breathing Difficulties

If you or someone is showing signs of difficulty when trying to breathe in and out – and more so when they’re experiencing acute symptoms such as severe wheezing, turning blue, or high pitched breathing sounds – you should call 911 for assistance.

Such a person will need immediate treatment or medication which they can receive from 911 responders.

During an Attempted Break-in

If you notice that someone is trying to break into your house, Refrain from taking matters in your own hands.

Call 911 for assistance.

Remember, the burglar could be under the influence of alcohol and drugs, or even armed.

When this is the case, confronting them could only make matters worse as they could severely harm you.

When someone has Fallen and is Unconscious or Injured

Moving an individual after a fall can worsen the situation – especially because determining the full extent of organ damage and spinal injuries can be impossible.

If you absolutely have to move someone, read this article on how to move accident victims or an injured person.

If you notice that someone has fallen and is unresponsive, the best thing to do is to dial 911.

Responders are trained and experienced enough to handle the victim accordingly to avoid further injuries. 

Can You Call 911 from a Cell Phone?

What’s the difference between calling 911 from cellphone vs landline?

The difference comes in with the way the calls are routed and tracked.

When you call 911, it’s important to know what to expect as only then will you get the assistance you need immediately.

What happens when you call 911? 

Once you call 911 from a landline from any part of the country, emergency responders will find you from any location.

This is because when you call 911 from a conventional landline, a computer situated in the dispatch center displays the phone’s number and address.

This is known as automatic location identification or automatic number identification.

The basic equipment in any Public Service Answering Point of this concept is referred to as the 911 center. 

Mobile Phones differ from Landlines

What happens when you call 911 from a mobile phone?

While the tower that captures the phone’s signal may be close, the information delivered may not be sufficient for the dispatcher to locate you.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC,) all wireless carriers must display your location to 911 dispatchers. 

Regardless of your preferred technology, location information must be displayed in approximately 50% of all wireless calls made to 911.

The percentage is set to rise to 70% by the end of year 2020.

The FCC rules give an allowance of up to six minutes within which responders must identify your location.

Failure to do this can result in the carrier being declared to violate the rules. Still, this would constitute a large number of calls, either with slow to populate or no location data whatsoever. 

So, if you find yourself on a bike, take note of your location so you can sufficiently communicate it.

Advancement of Technology

As technology advances, a major improvement has been done on iPhone and Android operating systems.

This has come in handy to enhance the ability of smartphones to display the exact location, making it easier for emergency dispatchers to find victims.

The downside of this technology is that it only covers smartphones. 

Even with these enhancements, the closest cell tower could be in a different country or region.

This would necessitate the 911 responders to cross borders before accessing the emergency scene.

What happens if you accidentally call 911?

Assuming you call from a cellphone and hang up immediately, 911 emergency dispatchers opine that they’ll request the carrier to provide your number. 

They then proceed to call back for follow up purposes.

In case the number retrieval process fails, they may need to estimate the location, making the process challenging seeing that it could or couldn’t be accurate.

What Should you do when Calling 911 from a Cellphone?

If you place 911 calls Rochester NY from a mobile phone, inform the call taker of the emergency you have, and mention your location.

Remember, different emergency types utilize different dispatch centers. By providing the right information you enable the call taker to dispatch the information to the right-center. 

Further, you want to remain calm and speak clearly.

Remember, call takers are trained to extract as much information from you as possible and ask relevant questions straight from a computer screen.

The best thing you can do is to listen carefully can provide accurate answers.

By communicating your exact position, you help the responders find you fast and with ease.

Provide your locations as concisely as possible to facilitate this.

Can you Call 911 Online? 

Calling 911 online is possible and easy.

All you need is to turn your internet on and switch on any of your digital devices.

Login to Skype and dial 911.

There are other VoIP applications you can use as well.

Still, you shouldn’t rely on VoIP applications or even Skype.

This is because they often don’t connect you with the closest 911 center.

Still, these applications could save you in an emergency. 

What Should you do when Waiting for Help to Arrive?

Stay on the line and act on the instructions provided to you by the 911 emergency responder.

Depending on your location, the emergency response team could arrive before the dispatcher finishes giving instructions or asking questions.

Before the responders arrive, ensure you have everything you may need. 

For instance, have your medical data in order, if you have a chronic disease related to the brain, lungs, the heart, or even blood sugar, you probably are under medication.

Do you experience any allergies after taking some medication?

Make sure all this information is readily available as it will come in handy to help the responders know how to handle your situation. 

If you have pets that could pose a danger to the responders, make sure they are locked up where possible.

If you aren’t in a position to secure them, you may want to inform the dispatcher before the responders arrive.  

What to Expect When the Responders Arrive

Once the responders arrive, they quickly assess the situation first.

They’ll look around the conditions of your home and evaluate your skin for any signs of paleness, sweating or dryness.

Before they can proceed to set up their equipment or even ask any questions, they’ll know whether you’re at risk.

If you’re experiencing an acute medical condition and have to be rushed to the emergency center, the responders may ask you where you prefer.

They could also be working under protocols with strict instructions on where they should go next.

You’ll need to cooperate with them to get the best assistance. 

How can you Call 911 with a Cellphone?

If you’re calling from a cell phone, let the call taker know your exact location immediately. Give them your wireless phone number too. This will help the call taker call you back should your call get disconnected. Ensure your cell phone is locked when you’re not using it. This will prevent unintended calls to 911.

Can You Call 911 in Another State?

It’s possible but it can be complicated. Remember, emergency dispatch centers or public service answering points are tasked with responding to 911 calls, and providing assistance to the needs of people within designated places. When you dial 911, the call is routed to a public service answering point that manages calls within your geographical region. 

How can I Dial 911 from iPhone

  • Tap emergency on the passcode screen, dial 911 then tap
  • On the Passcode screen, tap Emergency
  • Dial the emergency number (for example, 911 in the U.S.), then tap

When Not to Call 911 – Video


Knowing when you should and shouldn’t call 911 is critical if you have to get the best assistance.

If you or someone close to you experience some of the conditions we have mentioned here, you’ll need to dial 911.

You’ll also need to know what to say when you call.

Where possible, use a landline as it makes it easier for the dispatcher to figure out your exact location.

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