How To Call 911

From the Red Cross:

“Recognizing and Responding to an Emergency

In an emergency, there are four actions you can take to make a difference in the outcome for an injured or ill person:
o Recognize that an emergency exists.
o Decide to take action.
o Activate the emergency medical services (EMS) system.
o Give care consistent with your knowledge and training until EMS personnel arrive and take over.”

Most of the time you activate the emergency medical services (EMS) system
by calling 9-1-1
or the designated emergency number for any life-threatening condition.

Life-threatening conditions include, but are not limited to
■ Unresponsiveness
■ An altered level of consciousness (e.g., confusion)
■ Breathing problems
■ Severe external bleeding, or vomiting or passing blood
■ Signs or symptoms of life-threatening medical conditions (e.g., heart attack, stroke)

The person who makes the call should be prepared to give the dispatcher information listed below. And please note that if you do not have all these answers, you should call right away without trying to get all the answers. For example, you might start by saying: “we have an adult who is having a stroke,” or “a child was hit by a truck and is bleeding heavily,” or “we have an adult who is choking,”

then answer the dispatchers’ questions.

Be prepared to tell the dispatcher:

–The location of the emergency (address, nearby intersections or landmarks, and location within the building). Some places it could be good to have a description posted next to each phone, such as:
“We are in the second two story building from the main entrance to the company from 1234 Main street, on the north-west corner of the building, downstairs.”

“The pool complex is located on the east side of the campus, take the Stelling Road entrance and go to the far side of the parking garage.”

–The nature of the emergency (for example, whether police, fire or medical assistance is needed)

— A (brief) description of what happened

— The number of injured or ill people

— What, if any, help has been given so far and by whom

— and sometimes, the telephone number of the phone being used.



sign says do not swim alone emergency number 911

When you call 911 from a land line telephone, such as in your house or where you work, you get dispatch for the city the phone (your house/business) is located in. When you call 911 from a cell phone in almost all cases you get the Highway Patrol at a central location. Sometimes, especially if you are not calling about something on the freeway/highway, it would be faster to get dispatch for the specific city the problem is happening in. This requires knowing the direct dial phone number – area code and the seven digit phone number for each dispatch.

Direct dial emergency phone numbers for most cities in Santa Clara County, California, can be found at the Santa Clara County ARES/RACES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services/Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services) website.

San Mateo County cities (and the San Francisco airport) direct dial phone numbers can be found at:


When you are planning a camping trip, try to get the direct dial number for the park/Sheriff or agency in charge before you go.


At a hotel, be sure to find out if you need to dial 911 or 9-911 or 8-911 or . . .

In a lot of Canada you can dial 911 in an emergency just like in the U.S. But in other countries it’s often a different number. See this list from the U.S. Department of State and double check when you get there:

And note that in many other countries, when you call their emergency services (911 or 999 or 112 or a local number or ___ ) it does not necessarily mean an ambulance will be dispatched. The emergency services operator decides what’s appropriate, talking you through your own first aid, or sending you to your doctor or sending an EMT with or without an ambulance.

On campus we can activate the emergency medical services (EMS) system (call for help) in more than one way.

We can use the phone in a classroom to call security at 5555 (non-emergency) or 911 (emergency).
If the land line phone (usually on a wall in a classroom) is not functioning, or if you are elsewhere on campus, De Anza emergency can be directly dialed from a cell phone at 1 (408) 924 8000.

Cupertino police/sheriff/fire can be direct dialed from a cell phone at: 1 (408) 299-2311.

Use your law enforcement agency’s emergency number to report life-threatening incidents or a crime in progress, and use the non-emergency number for crimes that have already occurred.

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The Red Cross requests “If your wireless phone came pre-programmed with the auto-dial 9-1-1 feature turned on, turn off the feature. Do not program your phone to automatically dial 9-1-1 when one button, such as the “9” key is pressed. Unintentional 9-1-1 calls, which often occur with auto-dial keys, cause problems for emergency call centers. Lock your keypad when you’re not using your wireless phone. This action prevents automatic calls to 9-1-1.”

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Advice about calling from your cell phone:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the following advice at:

“Tips for Making Wireless 911 Calls

When making a 911 call from a wireless phone, you should:

• Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency right away.

• Be prepared to provide the emergency operator with your wireless phone number, so if the call gets disconnected, the emergency operator can call you back.

• Remember that many emergency operators currently lack the technical capability to receive texts, photos and videos.

• If you do not have a contract for service with a service provider and your emergency wireless call gets disconnected, you must call the emergency operator back because the operator will not have your telephone number and cannot contact you.


• Learn and use the designated number in your state for highway accidents or other non- life-threatening incidents. States often reserve specific numbers for these types of incidents. For example, “#77” is the number used for highway accidents in Virginia.

• Consider creating a contact in your wireless phone with the name “ICE” (In Case of Emergency), which will identify who you want to have notified in an emergency.

• Lock your keypad when you’re not using your wireless phone to help prevent accidental calls to 911.”

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The Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network has the following advice at:

For information

When the power is out

To report a broken fire hydrant

When your water pipes burst

To get a ride for doctor’s appointment

For paying tickets

For your pet.”

Other times to not call 911 can include
when a woman is going into the early stages of labor,
for someone in chronic pain who has run out of their prescription or over-the-counter painkillers,
someone who is drunk and vomiting/ being sick (unless they become unconscious).

Parents have mistakenly called 911 because their child got a piece of a toy stuck in their nose. Consumers have called to complain about not getting proper change at a store or about their pizza delivery not arriving.




Almost all of the time, when you call from a land-line phone, the 911 dispatcher can see the address you are calling from. But you can get help faster if you can tell the 911 dispatcher

which side of a building the ambulance or fire truck or . . . should be accessing.

or “the accident is at the northwest corner of the intersection of Stelling and McClellan”

or if you are trying to tell them which direction on a street a person of interest drove on, (commonly referred to as the direction of travel) you might say: “they were heading northbound on Stelling.”

Here is a basic explanation of the points of a compass ( north / east / south / west) on a map.

drawing of map directions

Almost all maps made in recent history have the direction NORTH at the top, SOUTH at the bottom, WEST on the left hand side, and EAST on the right hand side.

(As in the “west coast” and “east coast” of the United States; northern and southern California.)

Looking at a map of De Anza College, we can see that the door to classroom S56 is on the west side of the building.

simple map

The shallow end of the Olympic-sized De Anza swimming pool is named EPOOL because it is at the east end of the pool.

simple map


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Sometimes when you are calling or radioing, the person you are trying to communicate with might not be able to understand what you are saying, because your message might by scratchy.

If you just witnessed a crime or accident and really need help in a hurry, the dispatcher might not be able to understand what street intersection you are saying,

Or when talking to a relative they could ask you to repeat a word but still not understand what you said.

You could try to spell it out,

but since M and N can sound the same


B,C,D,E,G,P,T and V sound much the same,

you might be misunderstood.

In the United States military, and NATO, they have a specific way to re-name each letter of the alphabet. (Air and boat pilots, air traffic control and Ham Radio operators who volunteer with Community Emergency Response Teams know this alphabet, too. Bank and financial institutions often use it to be sure they are communicating customer info and data about large transactions properly.)

For example, if you are trying to spell out a license plate number of the car people drove off in,
instead of saying: 123 ABC,
you would say one, two, three, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.

In the military alphabet, (also known as the radio alphabet),
here are the “words” for each letter:

Alpha = A,
Bravo = B,
Charlie = C,
Delta = D,
Echo = E,
Foxtrot = F,
Golf = G,
Hotel = H,
India, = I
Juliet = J,
Kilo =K,
Lima = L,
Mike = M,
November = N,
Oscar = O,
Papa = P,
Quebec = Q,
Romeo = R,
Sierra = S
Tango = T,
Uniform = U,
Victor = V,
Whiskey = W,
X-ray = X,
Yankee = Y,
Zulu = Z.

Exceptions include airport personnel using Dixie or David instead of Delta to not cause confusion about Delta Airlines. But this only work if all the airport personnel agree on which word starting with the letter D to consistently use.

Some police departments use more common words, such as first or last names including Adam, Baker, David, Edward, Frank or Fox, George, Henry, Lincoln, Mary, Nancy, Queen, Robert, Sam or Susan, Tom, William,
Yellow or Yesterday for the letter Y, Zebra for the letter Z.

Most people do not know about the Military or police alphabets, beyond what they might have heard in a movie. And memorizing a specific alphabet is often not necessary to be able to communicate with anyone more accurately.

For example, if the sales rep you are ordering something from by phone did not repeat back to you correctly a product number you were asking about,
(you had said N17635 and they repeated back they said M17635)
you could say, “N, as in November,”
to almost anyone to correct what they thought they heard.


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Along with making the phone call to get help, it could be good to have plans
(often referred to as a Emergency Action Plan)
for how extra people not involved in first aid
can help get the ambulance to exactly where you are.

You could plan ahead to position someone at the entrance to the building and wave their arms widely in the air to get the attention of the ambulance.

Once the EMTs and their gurney are inside, if the route to the room with the injured person is not straight ahead, you could have someone at the end of a hallway, or the bottom of a staircase pointing the direction they need to go.

If you have an elevator and the person who needs help is on, for example, the fourth floor, it could be good to hold the elevator on the bottom floor so the EMTs can get right on when they arrive.

Do you have a policy about who meets EMS personnel and where? Is this carried out by security, and do you have a backup plan for an all out emergency such as after an earthquake/during a fire, when security will be quite busy and not able to respond to you?

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If a crime is involved,

Describing and Reporting of Events, Vehicles and Persons,

“In attempting to describe events, vehicles, or persons, write down the details of what you have observed while they are still fresh in your mind, so your descriptions to law enforcement officials will be as accurate as possible.

Describing Events

When describing events, write down:

• What happened;

• When it happened;

• Where it occurred (note the nearest cross street, home address, or landmark in relationship to the event);

• Whether injuries are involved (Be prepared to report visible or suspected personal injury. Be as specific as possible—this could save a life!);

• Whether weapons are involved (this information, whether observed or suspected, is vital to responding officers).

Describing Vehicles

When describing vehicles, write down:

• Vehicle license number and state, make and type of vehicle, color, and approximate age;

• Special designs or unusual features, such as vinyl top, mag wheels, pinstripes, etc.;”
(and any damage to the vehicle)

• Direction of travel.

(Direction of travel refers to the direction on a street a vehicle took, as in “he drove north on Stelling Road.” Having a map of the close-in area next to the phone can help you give information to the police when necessary, especially if you are panicking and have forgotten the names of cross streets, which way is north /south, etc.)

Describing Persons

In preparing descriptions of persons, it is important to write down the following:

• Sex;

• Race;

• Age;

• Height (estimated from eye contact level measured against your height);”

(Many establishments have stripes painted on door jambs
showing height for identification as people enter or leave a building.)

• Weight;

• Hair (color and length; does it look dyed?);

• Hat;

• Facial Hair (beard/mustache);

• clothing style/color;
(Shirt/tie, Coat/jacket, Trousers, Shoes)

And if not details about the clothes, it can help to just notice what color the above the waist clothes were and what color the pants/shorts/skirt was.

• Any peculiar or distinguishable mannerisms, physical disabilities, disfigurations, scars or tattoos;

• Voice characteristics (deep, lisp, accent).

And if you notice, right handed or left handed (which hand reached for a door knob).


Details about the Neighborhood Watch program are at:


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(Depending on how accurately the satellite is sending you info), your smart-enough cell phone can be used to find compass directions, as well as altitude, latitude and longitude to better be able to read a topographical (hiking) map and tell where you are when away from places you are familiar with.

Find a compass, altitude, latitude and longitude on your cell phone here.

Knowing the elevation you attained on a hike and or climb can be fun for the been-there-and-done-that part of your adventure. Below, a photo taken of the compass app on a cell phone at Lake Solitude, in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park:

cell phone showing elevation

The 270 degrees W (west) shows the direction the cell phone was pointing, useful for orienting to a topographical (hiking) map or road map.

You can turn the map around to align with the direction you are looking towards, in this example above, the top end “north” of the map would be to your right hand side.




NPS drawing that says your cell phone is not a light source, NOT a map, not a survival kit, NOT always going to have reception

Cell phones in the wilderness has advice on how/when to use a cell phone to contact 911 in the wilderness and a warning about interference between cell phones, iPods and avalanche beacons. And the warning:

Always state your location and cell phone number early in the call, in case connections fail and a callback is necessary.




also perhaps of interest: Emergency Action Plan for a coach or swim instructor

Neighborhood Watch applied to swim centers