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How and When to Call 911 - Do's & Don'ts with Video

Updated on December 4, 2013

History of 911

Alexander Graham Bell was the first to invent the telephone and have it patented first. A man named Elisha Gray was very close to the finish line but was beaten by Bell. It wasn't until 1937 that the first emergency response phone number with three digits was put into place.

The United Kingdom instituted the first system for an emergency call using the digits 999. Sydney, Australia began using 999 for emergency calls in 1957. New Zealand joined the effort with 111 in 1958.

The first 911 call wasn't placed in the United States until February 16, 1968 in Haleyville, Alabama by Speaker of the House, Rankin Fite to Congressman Tom Bevill. They used the infamous 'red' telephone that now resides in a museum in Haleyville. Fite dialed 911 from City Hall and Beville answered, "Hello?" from the city's police station. After exchanging greetings the two of them decided it was a wrap and met up for coffee and doughnuts.

Different Ways to Dial 911

There are several ways one can summon help if in an emergency situation. If you do not have access to one method be aware there are others. This information could save your life.

  • Land-line (a phone that is plugged into your house and works on a cable telephone service)
  • Cell Phone
  • VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) This means you can summon 911 using your computer. Make sure your address is always current with your internet provider. The address associated with your computer is where 911 will be dispatched)
  • TTY/TDD (Teletype communication system for people that are hearing/speech impaired. All 911 operators are equipped with TTY/TDD).
  • Vehicle Telemetry - Services that may come with newer vehicles such as OnStar, RESCU, TeleAid...these operators are not certified EMS personnel and calling them first may delay the response to the real 911 operators).

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United States & Canada
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New Zealand

Why You Should Not Call 911

You should not call 911 if you have a dispute about the way your hamburger was cooked. Don't call 911 because your fries are soggy. 911 is not your personal help line. Don't be selfish, someone could be dying while you bitch about your western burger.

Don't call 911 because your boyfriend won't marry you. I am certain, this isn't going to change his mind. 911 does not have the power to enforce a shotgun wedding in the United States. Also, when your pretty face is all over the 10 o'clock news, I am pretty sure your boyfriend is not going to get all soft when he see's that mug shot.

Again, there are non emergent phone lines that citizens can call if you think you have been wronged in some way, but don't expect 911 to respond.

Don't play practical jokes with 911 response teams. This can get you arrested, fined and humiliated. In some vicinities it can even garner a jail sentence.

Do not call 911 for a date....unless you like watching him work from your cell.

If you are driving drunk...yes go ahead and call.

If you are a police man and tried the confiscated product?

Why You Should Call 911

911 is an emergency service. Instituted so that lives could be saved, crimes could be stopped or disasters can be attended to, such as a fire. While this service is known about all over the world, many people do not understand what it is for.

911 is in place so that appropriate emergency response teams can communicate quickly and effectively in cases of real emergencies. When people abuse the system it is truly a miscarriage of justice. These time consuming and ridiculous calls impede the ability of response teams to get to authentic emergencies, quickly.

There are non emergent phone numbers available for you to call if you have another problem that you may need help with. If they cannot assist you, they may be able to direct you to the appropriate person that can help with your particular problem, if you ask nicely.

Please only dial 911 in cases of emergencies. If you need a police or fire department or have a true medical emergency it is always appropriate to call. If you are a victim of a crime or want to report the transmission of a crime it is appropriate to call 911.

If you are upset and unsure if your issue constitutes an emergency then by all means call 911 and let them decide. Do not hesitate to call if in doubt.

How to Correctly Call 911

If you have an emergency call 911. It is vital that you have a few important details. EMS cannot respond quickly if you are so upset that you can't provide information.

  • know the address and city of the location of the emergency
  • know the phone number or where they can call you back if you are disconnected
  • type of emergency (fall, drowning, missing person, burglary in process, gun shots fired - be able to calm down and explain so they know who to send)
  • answer all question posed to you. They may seem unnecessary but I promise the operators are trained and are asking so they can get you the best possible care, quickly.

Blackbirds cry wolf!


What to do while waiting for EMS response team.

There are several things that you can do to aid your emergency response team.

  • if person is not breathing and you are trained to administer CPR - do that until EMS arrives.
  • reassure the person help is on the way and comfort that person
  • gather all medications that this person may be taking regularly or might have taken recently
  • ensure pathway is clear for the responders. They may need to bring a stretcher or large equipment in to help the patient.
  • make sure you or someone else can hear the door for the response team
  • if you live alone - hide a key outside and inform 911 where that key can be found
  • keep a current list of drugs and medical conditions that you have
  • keep the name and number of your emergency contacts on your fridge and in your wallet together with your physican's contact information
  • teach your children how and when to call 911. Teach them their full name and your full name and address as soon as possible. One smart mom taught her child to sing his address and it enabled her very young child to dial 911 and sing his address under stress after his mother fell down the stairs and lay helpless and unconscious.

"Coward: one who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs." ~Ambrose Bierce


Submit a Comment

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hey Paula! Thank you! I do think some people just aren't aware of the difference in an emergency versus an upsettting even the police just don't need to be involved in:) haha Like burgers and fries!

    I know - it is hilarious what some people will do - but at the same time - it's a terrific waste of time and ends up costing tax payers dollars. Thank you and I hope you never need to call 911!

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Kelly......Oh my! This is very seriously INFORMATIONAL.....and damned good too. The funny parts are great and don't surprise me in the least. Every town has their share of morons......I can't imagine what some dispatchers hear and what they have to deal with.

    Really, Kelly, this is a great hub and full of important 911 info people need to know. Hope no one ever needs to call, but if they do....It is vital to get help the best and quickest way. Thanks, Kelly.

    Voted UP +++

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hey Tammy - thanks! I know - I mean really, like the police would empathize that the object of your affection doesn't reciprocate your true love and devotion? I can see where it IS and emergency ... if you are living in your own little world of 1! haha!

  • tammyswallow profile image

    Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

    Wow.. I can't imagine calling 911 cause someone doesn't want to get married. In my town, someone called the police because McDonald's wouldn't give them a refund. Emergency workers have probably seen everything. Excellent hub. Made me chuckle.

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Oh yeah Froggy - I am not sure if I had an emergency like that I'd been fooling with a phone! lol

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hi Kathleen - thank you! I have really never had to call 911 and am so glad about that! I freak out in emergency situations...I freeze! If one of my kids is bleeding or something - I just scream DAVE!!! ahahah Terrible but I can't stand the sight of blood!

    Yeah I am not sure what one would do in that instance - oh - maybe call the non emergent police number to report broken down cars! There ya go...or traffic stuff...then the PD can dispatch the proper help.

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hi Rajan - oh I am so glad you liked it! It is a serious hub topic with some serious advice but I had to have a little fun too:) haha

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hi Drbj! I was really suprised we didn't have 911 until 1968...really...what did they do? lol I guess you just rushed your own self to the hospital or died?

    I had my pick of the crop with those 911 funny videos - my goodness - people are really crazy. No wonder you are such a busy girl:) hahaha j/k

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    I know! Right Lela! OMG! That pot video just kills me! I have listened to it many times, and I laugh my butt off every time. Especially, imagining his wife kneeling on the floor there - while he is on the phone explaining he thinks they are dead:) hahaha Well that's what'cha get!! D-U-M! hahaha

  • The Frog Prince profile image

    The Frog Prince 5 years ago from Arlington, TX

    RHW - I'll give em a jingle right after I lock and load :)

    The Frog

  • Kathleen Cochran profile image

    Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Good information written with a splash of humor - best way to do it. I call 911 if I witness a traffic accident or hazard. I wondered about calling for a vehicle broken down and causing traffic problems, but don't know another way to summon police to clear up the trouble. Any one with better advice - please post. 911 has always been helpful.

  • rajan jolly profile image

    Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

    Very interesting and useful hub Kelly. You did a great job of explaining the why's and why not's of calling this emergency number.

    Voting it up, useful, interesting and sharing it.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

    How interesting, Kelly, that the 911 emergency phone number was not active until 1968. Guess there were no emergencies before then. Hah!

    The video of the female drunk driver is too funny. Great choice of other videos, too. Thanks for a fascinating trip re 911 history and a few laughs as well.

  • Austinstar profile image

    Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    That was outrageous! It's like, "help me, I dropped too much acid and now monkey are flying out my butt!"


  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Oh wouldn't it? There was an advertisement for a 911 dispatcher in my county - I really considered applying just cuz it would be so fun!! Then I thought about the sad parts and decided to keep on writing. I'd love to be the operator that answered those calls like, "can you send an ambulance, I think me and my wife are dying...we ate too many pot brownies for dessert!" ahahah

  • Austinstar profile image

    Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    I love it when Jay Leno does the 911 calls bit. These people are hilarious! However, it is scary to know that there are that many drunk or dumb people in the world.

    I think being a 911 dispatcher would be a great job!

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hey Mhatter - I hope you never have to call them again. My mom (and weirdly Simone Smith) is in Italy - I was curious how many people travel but don't think to find out what digits to call if they have an emergency. It seems like it might be a time when that could come in handy - especially if you don't know the language as emergency operators can arrange for translators by telephone!

    Thanks so much and good luck not calling 911!

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    HI Faith - and thank you so much! I love that video of the hilarious and I wonder how many times he has cringed upon thinking about it:) hahaha I mean it is hysterical! And I can never get over how in the end - he suddendly thinks to ask about the score of the game? hahaha The operator asks him a question once and he says "you already asked me that"...ok? Well she isn't the one stoned out of her mind either! lol lol Oh goodness - thanks for enjoying a laugh with me today:)

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Thank you for this great article. I think you covered everything, I have only had to call them once.

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

    I have to vote this one Way Up. Excellent hub and funny video about the cop eating the pot brownies. LOL This is great, as has it has the best of both worlds, serious, yet entertaining! My granddaughter called 911 just by accident, and we had taken the sim card out too, but it went through. Fun, fun. That is hilarious about your nephew. Thanks for this really unique and interesting write. In His Love, Faith Reaper

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Oh that's not so bad! My nephew decided he was gonna call the police on my daughters because they wouldn't let him play their video game - uhhh yeah they showed up:) hahaha They did not enforce the sharing though! hahaha

    I was so embarrassed...but they have to come to make sure that all is well so yeah, I had the nice officer in:) hahaha

  • Julie DeNeen profile image

    Blurter of Indiscretions 5 years ago from Clinton CT

    Excellent! You know, we bought my daughter one of those tracphones to play with (it was cheaper than buying a toy one!). We took the sim card out and she loved it.

    But she dialed 911 and it WENT THROUGH! And we had police at our house 10 minutes later. Ay yi yi.

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hi Bill! Oh sounds like they didn't get much practice before your call...and I am so sorry to hear about that experience. That is why I get so mad when people abuse it - I always think - if my child needed help and there were only minutes to save their life...? But Burger King wouldn't make a burger correctly?

    Thanks so much - I also realized my mom is in Italy and wonder if she would know what digits to dial?

  • RealHousewife profile image

    Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Hi rcrumple! Thank you! I heard about another stupid 911 call and that might make a good hub:) lol

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    No comments yet? What's up with that? Great hub, funny and serious..nice combination. I had no idea the first 911 call wasn't until 1968. I used it when my dad had his fatal heart attack in 1969....lot of good it did us, but looking back now I'm amazed how quickly we had help.

    Interesting article Kelly; good job.

  • rcrumple profile image

    Rich 5 years ago from Kentucky

    Extremely good article on 911 calling. It's amazing the intelligence some demonstrate by calling for nonessential reasons. Absolutely ridiculous. Have had to call it several times after witnessing accidents. It definitely is a regimented question and answer session. Almost expected the Beatles song "Help" at the end. lol Great Job!