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911 Operators and Dispatchers, What you need to know

Updated on September 16, 2014
The green is the 911 screen information
The green is the 911 screen information | Source


Where is THE most important aspect of the 911 call. If the operator does not know where you are, then how are you going to get help?

  • Calling from a land line phone. If you are lucky enough to have a good ol' fashioned land line phone, dialing 911 should give an accurate location. The operator has a screen that shows the address when a call comes in from a land line..

This should automatically show up on the computerized map.

  • If you are calling from a cell phone: Calls that come in from a cell phone show the location of the tower and lat & long coordinates. At my agency, this information transfers to the mapping software

Sometimes this can take a while.

  • Voice over internet. These can be a bit tricky since people can change their physical location without changing the location in the computer.

Regardless of your method of communication, expect the operator to ask you to verify your location.

Where again?

"I need help for my brother in West Virginia!"

Well if you live in Alabama that just aint gonna happen the way you think.

911 is not a federal agency. 911 is not a nationwide system.

Although the operator may be able to help you with finding the non emergency number for the agency that handles that area.

So this brings up the issue of jurisdiction.

Local agencies handle 911 calls in a variety of different ways. Although the hot trend right now is to consolidate dispatch centers, its really helpful to know who your agency is.

"Sarah, get me the sheriff!"

Are you in a small municipality? Are you governed by a county? All of these are clues as to who exactly you will reach when you dial 911.

If you're calling from a cell phone, that call may have hit on a tower in one jurisdiction, when help is needed in another, expect a transfer, or even a three-way.


Location, Location, Location

"Where again?"

My favorite all time line from an operator trying to get a caller to tell her the address was,

"If you were ordering a pizza what would you tell them?"

Seems simple, but it's amazing how many people have no idea of the address, the cross streets, the exit they just passed on the highway, the beach access, the mountain pass, the names of the store in the mall. . ..

If you go on and on about the emergency without pin pointing a location, chances are help is not pointing the wheel in your direction yet.



"911 what is your emergency?"

"Just send them, just send them!"

"Well ma'am is your house on fire? Is someone hurt or sick? Is there a robbery?"

Many agencies answer 911 with a subtext, "Do you need police, fire or ambulance?"

And if you need police, you're not going to get a fire truck no matter how much you want to see the firemen in their turn out gear,

. . . .. Aaaaaaah darn.

When to dial 911

"My trash can's were stolen last night!"

OK ma'am, dialing 911 is for life and death emergencies."

You'd be hard pressed to find an operator that hasn't used this line.

Easy right? Wrong. What is life or death to one person is nothing to another.

One of my relatives once dialed 911 because of a power outage.

"Oh I acted like I was panicked."




"That Anon guy, he sure calls a lot"

Imagine hysterical laughter from the dispatch center going over the radio as the newbie tries to understand who Anon is. We dispatchers use a lot of acronyms and we like to abbreviate..

Sometimes you can remain anonymous.

Agencies have different policies on this. If you don't want Trixie, the neighbor you always borrow an egg from, to know you're sick and tired of the loud music, you can probably stay anonymous.

However, if you've called 911 because you jumped out of the truck your BFF has just stolen, we probably want to know who you are.


Butt, butt, butt

"But I didn't dial 911!"

No. . . . but your phone did.

I can't even begin to tell you how many butt dials we get.

Different agencies handle this differently. If the line is open the operator may try to get your attention, and/or call you back.

"Why is my purse talking to me?"

You may be asked to verify your information, and upon assuring the operator everything is OK, you can continue to the food court.


You may be asked to stay right there and wait for an officer. Someone could be holding a gun to your head telling you to say,

"No Please don't send the police! It was an accident!"


Stay on the line

This is 2014, so a LOT of agencies, have mobile data computers in their vehicles.

These are lap top like thingies that the police officers, the fire department personnel and/or the paramedics can refer to while they are on the way to a call.

So if you tell your operator,

"Just get them here!" and then disconnect, you're missing out on both giving and getting information.

"He's still unconscious, are they on their way?"

"Yes sir, they've been on the way since you first called."

"OMG! I think he just stopped breathing!"

or "OMG he just shot him!'

or "There are flames shooting out of the building now!"

Several things happen at this moment:

  1. The operator immediately notates this in the call.
  2. The dispatcher airs the update to the police, fire and/or ambulance
  3. The police, fire and/or ambulance also sees what the operator put into the call on their MDC
  4. The police, fire and or ambulance may just step it up.

How does this work again?

Smaller agencies may have only 1 dispatcher, who answers calls and dispatches at the same time. Many agencies have varying amounts of call takers and dispatchers.

Some dispatch all three types of responders, some only one. Not every responder may have a mobile data computer. Some agencies silently dispatch just through the computer and don't air the call.

So the following examples are just that - only examples

Dispatching Police, Fire and Ambulance


Transferring to another agency, 3 way call


Sending an update


Whew! They've arrived


No lights and sirens! I don't want to disturb the neighbors.

Some people get very concerned as to how this will all "look." Regardless of your request to keep it quiet, there are protocols to follow.

Also . . .

Many people don't understand why an agency sends the fire department on a medical call.

It's pretty much standard procedure to have EMT's and paramedics working for the fire department.

There are many times that the fire department can get to you faster than the ambulance. How awesome is this if you're in a car accident. Fire personnel can use the jaws of life AND start CPR.

And More. . . .

Texting 911, Working large scale events, the funniest calls, the worst calls. There is always just a whole lot more to tell about 911.

The statistics show that most people only call 911 once in their lifetime.

If you have any questions, or If you've ever called 911, I'd love to hear your story.

Call 911!

Have you ever called 911?

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    • Hankscita profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Florida

      You are so welcome. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and thank you for reading my Hub.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      I recently wrote a scene in my new book where a kid dials 9-1-1. These articles will help me to make it more accurate. Thanks!


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