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.
What is 911?
911 is the phone number you should call when you need help, or see someone who needs help.
When should I call 911?
You should only call when someone or something is hurt, or is in danger, and you need the assistance of a public safety or medical professional.
What happens after I make the call?
After you dial 911, the person who picks up on the other end will be someone whose job it is to help you. They may ask you do to things, or ask you questions. It is important that you follow their directions as best as you can. They will send to wherever you are and will stay on the phone with you until everyone is safe.
What should I say to the operator?
When the Alexandria 911 operator answers, be prepared to give the following information:
The street address (where the problem is.)
What the problem is
The phone number you are calling from
Remain calm, speak clearly and stay on the line to answer all the operator's questions. When you call 911, you become the eyes and ears for the call taker. Help will get to you much faster when you stay calm, tell the call taker everything that is happening, and answer all the call taker's questions.
In situations where medical assistance is needed immediately--for example, if a woman is having a baby, when you call 911, emergency medical dispatch allows the caller to receive medical advice/instructions on how to assist a patient in distress. CPR and emergency childbirth assistance will be provided by the call taker. You will be asked a series of questions and then given instructions.
Remember to stay calm and the call taker will tell you what to do each step of the way. You will be able to handle the situation.
What if I call 911 by accident?
Even if you called 911 by accident or you think the problem has gone away, it is important that you stay on the phone until the call taker tells you it is OK to hang up. It's the call taker's job to make sure you are all right and that help has gotten to whomever needs it. In situations where you aren't able to talk or have to leave, do not hang up the phone or disconnect the call, so that the 911 operator can hear what is going on in the room. Most times they will be able to use computers at the 911 center to find your address.
Is there anything I should do now to prepare for emergencies later?
Before an emergency strikes, memorize important information about you and your family. Being able to tell the 911 operator important information -- like your address, your family members' names, and your phone number will get help to you faster.
Always be aware of your surroundings, so that if an emergency strikes, you can tell the 911 operator the location of the incident, or provide information such as landmarks, cross streets and mileposts.
Train your entire family to use 911. Even a very young child can learn to recognize an emergency and know how to dial three easy digits.
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.
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.