911 and You

Picture this. You’re out and about with the family and you witness a crime in progress or perhaps a heinous collision. You’re in your hometown. You pick up your cell and dial 911. You assume it will go to your local jurisdiction, right?

Cue cheesy game show buzzer.
You are incorrect. But, thanks for playing.
Let’s make the scenario a little more petrifying shall we? You’re babysitting your friend’s kid, grandchild, niece, and/or nephew. He/she got into the cleaning supplies and may have ingested something toxic. You pick up your cell phone and dial 911 expecting help to arrive forthwith.
Or, what if you interrupt a burglary and your husband is now wrestling with the felon? You dial 911 from the cell and anticipate the ear blasting, but comforting, sound of sirens. Hope you’re patient…
More than likely, you’re 911 call has been routed to CHP (at least in California…). So what, you say? So, this. More than likely, when you dial 911, you’re going to be frantic. It’s the 911 operator’s job to calmly ask you some questions. Chief amongst them would be your location. Once they get that info out of you and they figure out you’re not in their jurisdiction, they have to transfer the call to the appropriate agency. You’d think that’d be quick. It ain’t as quick as you’d like, believe me.
Once the appropriate agency is on the line, they’re going to have to get a lot of the same information you’ve already provided to the original agency. Then, the appropriate agency will dispatch the call to the officer(s) on the street. If you’re lucky, you live across from a Starbucks where all the cops hang out. In reality, they’re probably on the other side of town. Add response time from ten miles away.
We’re talking about, from first 911 dial to a copper at your doorstep, anywhere from eight to fifteen minutes (depending on the priority of the call, staffing levels, location, etc).
MC, what the hell is your point?
Glad you asked. Don’t be so bloody shy next time. My point is each of you should take the time to find out what the non-emergency police/fire/ems phone number is and program it into your cell phone. When you need us, the last thing you want to do is look around for a phone book or call 411. Why non-emergency? Because it goes to the same dispatch center and they’re well trained to realize the screaming victim on the other end of the phone may actually have an emergency.
Consider yourselves educated. Carry on…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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10 thoughts on “911 and You

  1. Don't most non-emergency phone numbers say 'if this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911'?

    I've heard the advice to program in the non-emergency #s of the local agency into the phone before, but it seems kinda unrealistic considering that a 20mile radius around you can encompass 20+ different jurisdictions depending on the locale.

    I know for a fact that here in Bay Area all 911 calls from cell phones get routed to a CHP office in Vallejo. I've also heard of someone who dialed 911 just to get asked "Los Altos Hills? Is that even in California?"

    Do you have a suggestion about a verbal script someone can remember and recite when dialing 911 from the cell phone to let the dispatcher know that it's time to transfer the call to another dispatch center without wasting too much time?

    Would something along the lines of "Hi, I'm calling from my cell phone from City Name, California, and this is an emergency!!!" work?

  2. To be more specific, Antelope, I am suggesting you use the non-emergency number for the jurisdiction in which you live. If you work in another, use that one, too. If you shop in another, use that one, too.

    I'm pretty sure those cell phones can hold quite a few numbers.

    Your script isn't a bad idea, but it's still quicker to call the appropriate jurisdiction, if you can.

    Also, I neglected to mention, if you're at home, use your land line to dial 911…that one never misses!

  3. Another wonderful thing to know is your location. I work as a caregiver and the first thing I do is write down the address of the person I'm caring for and put it on the fridge. People always assume I can ask them or that I'll just remember, but if they're experiencing a medical emergency, they're no help and working in more than one residence a day, I'm not going to remember. And nothing is more embarrassing than a grown ass woman who doesn't know the address:)

  4. This is very good advice. Anytime i travel anywhere i always look up the non-e numbers for each town i'll be visiting for any long period of time.

    I've had to call 911 (when i had my accident) and it was the longest 3-5 minutes of my life (i live in a small town, so the response times are relatively quick) before the police and EMS got there.

    Ironically, i contemplated dialing the non emergency number but then simply dialed 911 cuz yanno.. real emergency lol.

  5. Yep, I've got about 6 local pd numbers in my phone. Along with BART/OAKlAND/SF – you just never know. And the last 2 times I called 911 for the CHP it took FOREVER to get a dispatcher. I made a call at the Caldecott, finally got the dispatcher around Lafayette and was able to witness the CHP motor tear out of the scales on 680 after the car I had called in. Don't know if they caught him/her – hope they did. And BTW, the CHP dispatcher I spoke to was probably the nicest lady I've had the pleasure of speaking with.

  6. True story:

    Last week my local 911 center got a call essentially saying: "I called 20 minutes ago, where the h*ll is the FD?" It's the first we've heard of any emergency.

    Seems the wife didn't think it was a 'real emergency' so she looked up the 10-digits and called them. Unfortunately, she called the 10-digits for a neighboring FD. They were out searching for her.

    Fortunately it was not a time sensitive emergency. They thought it was funny after the fact.

    The moral is if you're going to call the local number, make darn sure you know what it is.

  7. Several years ago a friend and I had the great misfortune of learning about the cell phone CHP dispatch conundrum. In an emergency. Since then it's become a joke among friends that if you need a local PD/SO/friggin' park ranger number I'm the one to come to. Like another commenter I have several local agency numbers in my cell. I have yet to need them, but it's so reassuring.

  8. For years I have had that info in my phone. And not just my local PD AND sheriff; I also have the non emergency numbers for the PD's and sheriffs of the towns we go to regularly. They have come in handy more than once. And in Denver where there are multiple jurisdictions they are happy to transfer you to the proper authority and it only takes a few seconds. And really, having all those numbers in the phone beats guessing & hoping you can be put through to the right person with 911.

  9. Landlines have been quite rare since the early 2000’s, mainly limited to those folks who are slow to change. And similar to Antelope, all non-emergency numbers in my area link to automated systems. The first thing they say is to dial 911 in an emergency. Then it has touchtone options. Even in this route, it’s not guaranteed you’ll talk to anybody because all administrative staff could be home outside of standard business hours.