911 is meant to connect you to help in serious emergencies. Get on the line, and let the 911 dispatcher know where the emergency is. Answer any questions they have as best you can, and stay on the line follow any instructions they give you while waiting for help to arrive. If you need help for serious but less urgent issues, call a number other than 911, such as a non-emergency police or fire number.



Make sure the situation requires 911 assistance. 911 is meant to help in situations involving medical emergencies, fires, or crimes in progress. If someone is hurt, injured, or facing another emergency, don’t waste time, but do think about whether or not you need this type of assistance. Times when it makes sense to call 911 include (but are not limited to):[1]'

  • A fire has started and is out of control.
  • A burglary, assault, or other crime is in progress.
  • There has been a car crash or other accident.
  • Someone is seriously injured (bleeding severely, in shock, etc.)
  • Someone has suffered a medical emergency (like a heart attack, stroke, or seizure)

Call if you aren’t sure. 911 should not be used for non-urgent situations, because EMTs, police, or other responders may be needed elsewhere. However, if you aren’t sure if your situation requires 911, go ahead and call. It’s better to be safe than sorry.


Dial 911 from any phone. To speak with a 911 dispatcher, simply punch in the numbers “9-1-1” on any working phone and stay on the line. You can even use an unactivated cell phone to place the call.

  • 911 works in the US and Canada. If you are in another location, you will need to call a different emergency number. In Australia, dialing 911 will redirect your call to 000.
  • Text capabilities are growing, but still severely limited. If you need to contact 911, you should still place a call rather than text.
  • If you ordinarily use special access services (like TTY) with your phone, contact your service provider for information about the best way to contact 911 in an emergency.


Answer the dispatcher’s questions. The dispatcher will ask you to describe the emergency. Stay calm and answer any questions they have. Be assured that the dispatcher is actively working to send help to you. Even if it feels like they are wasting time, the questions are meant to get you the help you need as quickly as possible. They have usually already dispatched help, and need to ask more questions to provide updates to first-responders. You may need to provide information like:[4]

  • Your address or other details about your location
  • Your phone number
  • A description of what happened
  • Clarification about who needs help (you, someone you are with, or a stranger)
  • Details of the problem (e.g., whether or not an injured person is unconscious or bleeding)
  • Whether you are safe or still in danger

Follow the dispatcher’s instructions. You should always stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you it’s ok to hang up. They may give you instructions about what to do. Follow these carefully--they can prevent further problems, and even save your life (or someone else’s). The dispatcher may give you instructions on things like:

  • Giving first aid
  • Performing CPR
  • Moving to a safer location

Follow through if you call by mistake. If you or someone else (like a child) accidentally call 911, don’t hang up the phone. If you just hang up, the dispatcher will assume that an actual emergency is going on and send assistance. Instead, stay on the line and calmly tell the dispatcher that the call was a mistake.


Don’t call 911 for the wrong reasons. When a genuine emergency is at hand, you shouldn’t feel shy about calling 911. However, using 911 for non-urgent situations bogs down the system and keeps responders from potentially helping others who really need it. Examples of non-urgent situations include:[8]

  • The power is out (get in touch with the power company instead)
  • A fire hydrant is broken (call a fire station’s non-emergency number)
  • A pipe has burst (call a plumber or water company)
  • When you need a ride to a doctor for an appointment (call them first and ask about transportation options)
  • Pet problems (contact a vet instead)
  • As a prank or just to see what happens