240 million 911 calls are made every year in the United States.  But not all of them should be considered real emergencies, according to dispatchers

Emergency situations don’t happen every day for regular citizens. When an emergency does occur, people can freeze because they are unfamiliar with the process of calling 911. Some might think a situation isn’t serious enough to warrant calling 911 and fear that they could get in trouble. Some simply have never had to call 911 before, so they don’t know what to do.

Here is what the experts advise to help guide when you do – and when you don’t – need to call 911:

If there is an emergency:

You should call 911 for:

  • Any immediate life-threatening incident to an individual or property, such as an armed aggressor, intruder, fire, medical emergency, screams, attacks, gunshots, etc.
  • A serious crime that has just occurred, such as robbery or sexual assault
  • A crime in progress
  • Traffic accident with injuries
  • Suspicious activity or a suspicious individual that could immediately result in a crime
  • Brandishing of weapons

If you’re unsure whether the situation is a true emergency, officials recommend calling 911 and letting the call-taker determine whether emergency assistance is needed.

“I probably shouldn’t call…I’m not exactly sure what happened.”

People sometimes do not call 911 because they worry they don’t have enough knowledge about the situation to be helpful in answering a dispatcher’s questions. They might only know one or two details about the emergency or they might not be entirely sure of what they saw – whatever the reason, they choose not to call 911.

 If you ever witness an emergency, call 911. Dispatchers are trained to ask questions to get as much information as possible.  Any little detail will be able to help the dispatcher gage the appropiate level of response needed. Plus, you don’t know if someone else might have called 911 to provide additional information.  

 What’s not an emergency:

When dispatchers get flooded with calls that are not critical, someone actually experiencing an urgent, life-threatening incident might not be able to get the assistance they need. For example, situations where you should not call 911 but instead call a non-emergency number include:

  • Asking for directions, community event information, weather updates and accident reports
  • Reporting graffiti, potholes, etc.
  • General noise complaints
  • A missing pet
  • If your utilities have been turned off

As always, however, use your best judgement on whether it is a real emergency.

If you accidentally call 911:

Do not hang up. It is important you stay on the line to tell the dispatcher that it was an accidental call and that there is no emergency. If you hang up, often times a law enforcement officer will be sent out on a welfare check. This possibly prevents that same officer from responding to a legitimate emergency.  

Knowing when to call 911 (and when not to call) is critical to the overall safety of the community. It allows the lines to be clear for dispatchers and first responders so they can dedicate the appropriate response to life-threatening emergencies. Having the right tools to help you make the right decision of when you need to call 911 could save someone else’s life.