There are several things to keep in mind when calling 911 for police, fire or emergency medical assistance. The following frequently asked questions address important considerations related to emergency communications.
When should I call 911?
You should call 911 only if you need an emergency response from police, fire or emergency medical personnel. For non-emergencies, call your local police or fire department or other appropriate agency.
If the situation seems urgent and has the potential to become dangerous, call 911. Dispatchers will determine whether your call should be handled by 911 or can be transferred to another person or agency.
Examples of when to call 911 include:
- A serious medical emergency (chest pains, seizures, bleeding, etc.)
- Any type of fire (structure, vehicle, brush, etc.)
- Any crime in-progress (robbery, burglary, prowler, fights, etc.)
- Any other life threatening situations (traffic accident with injuries, etc.)
Common reasons that people call 911 that can and should be handled by other agencies include:
- A power outage – call your utilities company
- Traffic information – call 511
- Health and human services – call 211
DO NOT call 911 for the following:
- For information
- For directory assistance
- As a prank
- To report a crime that occurred yesterday
- For your pet
What will I be asked when I call 911?
For all 911 calls, you will be asked for the:
- Location of the emergency: This is the address where the emergency is actually happening. If you don't know the address, let the dispatcher know and then:
Give cross streets or a "hundred block"
Provide landmarks, business names or parks near the emergency
Look at the house numbers in the area
If you are calling from inside a home or business, look on a piece of mail
- Phone number you are calling from: If you get disconnected or you hang up, the 911 dispatcher will be able to call you back.
- Nature of your emergency: Once the nature of the emergency is established, the 911 dispatcher will ask you questions pertaining to your emergency and may give you pre-arrival instructions in the case of a medical emergency.
It is important to speak clearly and to answer all of the questions the dispatcher asks you as calmly and completely as possible. While you may be asked many questions, this information is not delaying a response by emergency personnel. In fact, emergency personnel are typically dispatched as soon as the location and nature of the emergency is known. The 911 center will continue to relay the necessary information to the emergency personal while they ask you questions, and in some cases they may keep you on the phone until help arrives.
Never hang up until the 911 dispatcher tells you to do so, unless there is a threat to your safety.
What if I accidentally 911?
DO NOT hang up. Instead, inform the dispatcher that you have reached the wrong number.
If you do hang up, the dispatcher will call the number back to make sure everything is alright. If there is no answer or a busy signal, a law enforcement officer will be dispatched. This will needlessly take resources away from genuine emergencies.
What if I have a problem calling 911?
Wireline phones are the most reliable way to call 911. Whenever possible, use a wireline phone when you need help. Pay phones can be used to call 911 without inserting money. In case of power outages, be aware that VoIP/Internet/Broadband phone service will not work. If you have wireline phone service, you should keep a basic, corded phone that does not require electricity to use during power outages. In addition, emergency phones are installed on the outside of many police and fire stations.
If your address has displayed incorrectly when you call 911, you should contact your telephone service provider to have your information corrected.
What if I need assistance to make a 911 call?
If you do not speak English or have trouble conveying the needed information in English, interpretation services are available at all 911 centers.
If you are deaf or hearing impaired, 9-1-1 centers are equipped with TTY devices and call receivers are trained in their use. You can also use Video or IP Relay Services that will deliver your call to the 911 center in your registered location and interpret the call.
When making at TTY call to 911:
- Stay calm and place the phone receiver in the TTY. Dial 911.
- After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times. This may help shorten the time necessary to respond to the call.
- Give the dispatcher a moment to respond. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The dispatcher should answer and type "GA" for GO AHEAD.
- Tell what is needed: police, fire department or ambulance.
- Give your name, address and phone number where help is needed.
- Stay on the line if it is safe to do so, answer the dispatcher's questions.
If a hearing/speech impaired caller doesn't have a TTY/TDD, the caller should call 911 and not hang up. Not hanging up leaves the line open. The caller's address is displayed on the dispatcher's screen and help will be sent.
Why do dispatchers ask so many questions?
You will be asked a series of questions that will help determine the type of response for your emergency. In a medical situation these answers will help paramedics better prepared to help the patient by using the information you have provided. Here are some questions you should be prepared to answer:
- What is the exact location of the emergency?
- Where are the paramedics needed?
- What is happening with the patient right now?
- How old is the patient? If you don't know, say so and estimate the patient’s age.
- Is the patient conscious and breathing?
- Are they bleeding?
The dispatcher will provide you with some instructions for keeping the patient safe and comfortable until the paramedics arrive. Listen carefully to the dispatcher instruction.
If I call to report a fire, what should I tell the dispatcher?
You should be prepared to answer questions like these:
- Where exactly is the fire?
- What is on fire? A structure, car, field, etc.
- How large is the fire? This is a only an estimate, think about the size of the fire in relation to something common: the size of a living room, the size of a football field, bigger than a grocery store parking lot.
- Are any structures threatened? Are there flames moving close to any homes or buildings?
- Do you know if anyone is inside the structure?
- Do you know if anyone is hurt?
While you are answering these questions, the dispatcher is taking the appropriate steps to send help and relay the information to first responders.
Can I send text or picture messages to 911?
No, the current 911 system is designed for voice communications. Other types of data, such as text messages, pictures and video cannot be accurately interpreted by the system, and therefore cannot be directly received by the 911 centers.
What should I know about PBX phones?
Private telephone systems, such as PBXs, may not interface to the Enhanced 911 system. Residents served by these telephone systems may be denied the benefits of the Enhanced 911 system, such as the automatic location and number identification and selective routing features.
Can I program my home alarm system to dial 911?
No, by law automatically activated dialing and annunciation systems are prohibited from calling 911. The law requires access to the system to be initiated by a person. Your home alarm must go to an alarm monitoring company who will contact the Dispatch Center.
What is E-911?
E-911 stands for “Enhanced 911” system. This system allows residents of Broward County to use one number in an emergency and be selectively routed to the correct call center. This selective routing is based on the address for wireline and internet/broadband telephones and is based on the cell site that processes the call for wireless phones.
Calls are directly routed to the police 911 centers, which may or may not also be the fire/medical 911 center. If fire or medical services are needed and the police call center does not handle these types of calls, you will then be transferred. This transfer procedure is done very quickly by well-trained call receivers using equipment that transfers with the click of a button.
The Enhanced system also provides automatic number and location identification on a screen at the 911 center. Wireline phones display the phone number, address and subscriber information on the 911 screen, which the call receiver will verify.
Internet/broadband (also called VoIP) phones display the phone number, address and subscriber information that the subscriber has entered, so it is extremely important that internet/broadband customers keep their information up to date with their provider. Wireless phones will provide the phone number (if the phone has active service with a wireless company) and a general area the wireless phone is in. Depending on the wireless coverage in the area and the type of wireless phone, the accuracy of the location provided varies greatly. 911 callers using a wireless phone should always be prepared to provide their location to the 911 center.
What about calls to 911 in a weather or other emergency?
In the case of an area-wide emergency, such as a hurricane or terrorist attack, do not use your telephone for the first few hours following the event unless you have a life-threatening emergency and need to call 911. If you must reach friends or family, call or text an out of area contact.
In these cases, the best way to help yourself and your loved ones is to be prepared by having an emergency plan and a personal preparedness kit. Listen to a battery powered radio to get information about the emergency.
How are 911 calls prioritized?
When your call is received, the information is relayed to the appropriate dispatcher with a priority attached. All calls are prioritized to maximize the safety of the responders and the resident. Calls received earlier may need to be held in order to have officers/deputies respond to life-threatening incidents. Calls with a higher priority are usually in progress. Some examples of these are: burglaries or robberies in progress, disturbances or domestic violence incidents, use of weapon calls, fire/rescue calls, etc.
What should I teach my children about 911?
Many 911 hang-up calls are made by children playing with the telephone. Each time a 911 hang-up call is received, the dispatcher must immediately call back the phone number to determine if there is an emergency. If there is no answer on the callback, law enforcement personnel will immediately be dispatched to check the well-being of any persons at the location.
If, on call-back, there is an answer, the dispatcher will question the person (an adult) who answers the phone to determine if an emergency exists. Dispatchers have been trained to "pick up" on any unusual noises or voice inflections to determine if there is a problem at a location without the caller actually advising the dispatcher.
If a child answers the phone on a call-back, the dispatcher will request to speak to an adult to ensure that everything is okay. Some children are too young to understand what we need (give the phone to an adult), so the dispatcher will still send an officer to respond.
We ask that adults do not punish children who call 911 and then hang up, but rather explain to them that 911 should only be used in an emergency. If children are punished for dialing 911, it may scare them from using it in the future, whether they have a legitimate emergency or not.
Is my call to 911 confidential?
Callers to 911 are not required to give their name, address or phone number to the dispatcher. You will never be forced to give your personal information. However, please keep in mind there may be times when officers/dispatchers require additional information from you after the call is disconnected. An example would be if more specific information is needed to identify a location or update information that will affect an officer’s response. This is the main reason you will be asked to provide your name and call-back number.
If you choose to remain anonymous, it will not change the officer’s/deputy’s response to your call. All calls are recorded. These recordings are held for a set period of time in case they are needed in a later investigation.