Ask the 911 Expert

Education & Help

Greg RohdeAsk the 9-1-1 Expert

Greg L. Rohde serves as the Executive Director of the NG9-1-1 Institute (www.ng911institute.org) - a not-for-profit organization that supports the Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus in promoting E9-1-1 and emergency communications development and public policy education. Rohde is the former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the telecommunications and information service policy agency of the United States government and manager of the federal radio magnetic spectrum.

In 2011, the E9-1-1 Institute together with a Public Safety Coalition launched a nationwide 9-1-1 education campaign together with a new website (www.know911.org) that would serve as a resource for everyone across the nation.

When should I call 9-1-1?

Call 9-1-1 for emergencies only. It is appropriate to call 9-1-1 when you need to save a life, stop a crime or report a fire. Remember 9-1-1 is the right number to call in an emergency when a prompt response is needed.

What does 9-1-1 need to know when I call?

When calling 9-1-1, one of the first things you'll be asked to provide is the location of the emergency you're reporting. The call taker may not automatically know your location or may ask you to confirm it. Tell the call taker the location of the emergency. Provide landmarks such as cross streets and mileposts. Always be aware of your surroundings.

What should I do once I call 9-1-1?

Remain calm and be prepared. Try to stay calm, listen carefully, give information and follow all instructions. In an emergency, seconds matter, so being knowledgeable and prepared can make all the difference. Knowing when to call and what to expect when you phone 9-1-1 can help reduce fear and feelings of helplessness in an emergency.

Should I get familiar with dialing 9-1-1 on my phone?

Before you need help in an emergency, be sure to understand how the type of phone you use affects your call to 9-1-1. Cell phones may not automatically tell 9-1-1 where you are. Know the capabilities of the device you are using (landline, cellular, VoIP) when calling 9-1-1.

What about contacting 9-1-1 through cell phones or smartphones?

The current 9-1-1 system is designed for voice communications only. Texting 9-1-1 is not an option in most locales; you must dial 9-1-1 and speak with a call taker. Lock your keypad when you're not using your phone, so 9-1-1 isn't dialed by mistake. For the same reason, don't put 9-1-1 on speed dial. Do not give old phones to children as toys. A wireless phone with no active service can still call 9-1-1. If you accidentally call 9-1-1, stay on the line and tell the receiver that you do not have an emergency.

How can I help 9-1-1 help me?

The more you know what to expect when you call 9-1-1, the faster 9-1-1 can get you the help you need. If you dial 9-1-1 for a non-emergency matter, you are tying up resources that could be needed in a real emergency. You can save a life! Follow all instructions the 9-1-1 call taker gives you, and don't hang up until the call talker does.