Calling 911

What Is 911?

911 is a three-digit number anyone can dial on the telephone to get help when there is a life-threatening or in-progress emergency. Call 911 when:

  • There is a fire, serious accident, or medical emergency
  • Someone’s life is in danger
  • A dangerous crime is taking place

When you call 911 a professionally-trained person (dispatcher) answers the phone. The dispatcher asks what the emergency is and sends help to you, such as the police, fire department, ambulance, or highway patrol. If you are not sure whether there is a real emergency, it is better to be safe and call 911.

You can call 911 anytime there is an emergency from telephones in California and many parts of the United States. The call is free from all telephones, including pay phones. You can also make 911 calls on cell phones that are charged, but have no account.

What Happens When I Call 911?

When you dial 911 in California the dispatcher can, in most cases, see the address and number of the phone you are calling from on a special viewing screen. The dispatcher will still ask for the location, in case you are calling from a different place than the emergency. By looking at the address on the viewing screen, the dispatcher can begin to send help to you while you are answering questions.

Questions Dispatchers Ask

The dispatcher will obtain information about the emergency in a specific order. This allows the dispatcher to make quick decisions necessary to provide an immediate response. Some of the questions the dispatcher may ask are:

  • What is the emergency?
  • Is it occurring now?
  • Where is it occurring?
  • Address where the emergency is occurring
  • Your name and phone number for contact
  • Can you see what is happening right now?

If it is a crime, the dispatcher may ask additional questions:

  • Can you describe the suspect?
    • Name (if known)
    • Race
    • Sex
    • Age
    • Height
    • Weight
    • Hair
    • Facial hair
    • Clothes
  • Can you describe the suspect’s vehicle?
    • Color
    • Year
    • Make
    • Model
    • Body Type
    • License Plate Number
    • Damage or Marks
  • What direction was the suspect’s vehicle was last seen traveling?
  • What type of weapon was used?
  • Have the involved parties been drinking, using drugs? If they have been using drugs, what type?

Check out our Printable Dispatch Call Questionnaire (PDF).

Emergency Call Prioritization

Emergency calls are prioritized according to the degree that persons or property are being threatened. A crime in progress receives a quicker response than one that was committed in the past.