The three-digit telephone number "911" has been designated as the "Universal Emergency Number" for people throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. It is intended as a nationwide telephone number and gives the public fast and easy access to a Public Safety Answering Point. In Alexandria, 911 calls are routed through the City's Department of Emergency & Customer Communications (DECC), the Public Safety Answering Point for all law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. DECC provides 24-hour, two-way radio communications and other essential services to police, sheriff, and fire departments, and to other local public safety departments.
Using 911: Information and Tips
When calling 911:
- Make sure it is an emergency. Is a person hurt or in danger? Do you need the police, fire department, or an ambulance immediately? Call 911, even if you are unsure that it's an emergency. For non-emergency, non-life-threatening situations, call 703.746.4444.
- Know your location. This is the most important information you can provide to a 911 call taker. 911 callers using mobile phones must also be aware that the 911 center that answers the call may not be the 911 center that serves the area that the call is being made from. Look for landmarks, cross street signs and buildings. Know the name of the city or county you are in. Knowing the location is vital to getting the appropriate police, fire or EMS units to respond.
- Don't hang up. Even if you called 911 by mistake, if you end the call abruptly or don't answer a call back, then the call taker will likely assume that something is wrong and will either continue to try and reach you or dispatch field responders to your location. This takes away from the 911 center's ability to take calls and dispatch services to ongoing emergencies, so make sure the 911 call taker tells you it is ok to disconnect before you hang up.
- Stay calm. When you are on the phone with 911, you are their eyes and ears. The better you can answer all of the 911 call taker's questions, the faster he or she can get the right services to your location. Listen and answer the questions asked. By doing this, it helps the call taker understand your situation and will assist you with your emergency until the appropriate police, fire or medical units arrive.
- Teach your children how to call 911. Be sure they know what 911 is, how to dial from your home and cell phone, and to trust the 911 call taker. Make sure your child is physically able to reach at least one phone in your home. When calling 911, your child needs to know their name, parent's name, telephone number, and most importantly their address. Tell them to answer all the call taker's questions and to stay on the phone until instructed to hang up.
- Know your phone systems. Educate all your family members about the phone system in your home as well as your cell phone. Children may need to use the devices in an emergency and will need to know how to operate them.
The City of Alexandria has joined the nationwide "Smart911" service, which lets residents, businesses and visitors provide information to 911 dispatchers in advance of emergencies.
The free Smart911 service allows individuals and businesses to create online safety profiles with home, workplace and mobile phone numbers, along with additional information that would be valuable to dispatchers and first responders during an emergency. This information often includes home or work addresses, details about medical conditions, hazardous materials on the property, pets, and emergency contacts. Users are prompted to update their safety profiles every six months to ensure their information remains accurate. Even with a safety profile, it is still important that 911 callers, particularly those with mobile phones, provide their current locations to dispatchers at the start of each call.
Smart profiles are kept confidential and secure, and are only available to trained dispatchers in participating 911 centers across the country. This allows mobile phone users to provide their profile information when they travel, and makes it easy to update profiles with new landline numbers after a move. Smart911 is currently available in more than 1,500 communities in the U.S., across 40 states.
For more information, call 311 or 703.746.4311.
Text to 911 Service
1n 2016, the City of Alexandria upgraded its 911 emergency service to accept text messages in addition to voice or TTY calls. Anyone in need of immediate police, fire, or emergency medical assistance may call or text 911 from any landline, mobile phone, or TTY device. Text messages may be preferable for persons who are not able to hear or speak due to a disability or an emergency, or for persons who feel that making a voice call may put them in danger. It may also be possible to send a text message when cellular signal strength is insufficient to complete a voice call.
No matter how 911 is contacted, always try to provide the location where help is needed, the nature of the emergency, whether the event is still active, who is involved, and whether there are any weapons present. Since text and TTY messages do not provide automatic location information to dispatchers or the same degree of real-time dialogue, persons in need of assistance should always place a voice call to 911 when possible. If a text message is sent, the sender should provide the exact street address or other location, and be prepared to answer follow-up questions from dispatchers. Read more.