Calling 911

Call 9-1-1 only to report a life-threatening situation requiring police, medical or fire emergency assistance. Do not call 9-1-1 unnecessarily. 9-1-1 lines must be kept open for people with true emergencies.

When to call 9-1-1

  • To get help for someone who is hurt. For example:
    • If someone falls and is seriously injured.
    • If you see someone hurt in an accident.
  • If you see someone acting suspiciously, stealing, or breaking into a home or building.
  • If you smell smoke or see a fire.
  • If you see people fighting and hurting each other.
  • If you see someone being robbed or beaten.
  • If you believe emergency assistance may be needed but are not sure, call 9-1-1 and describe the situation.
  • If you call 9-1-1 by accident, don't hang up. Explain what happened to the 9-1-1 operator.

When not to call 9-1-1

In the event of a natural disaster or emergency, minimize your calls to 9-1-1 unless it is a life threatening police, medical or fire emergency. The following guide should help you determine when it is appropriate to call 9-1-1 in a disaster.

  • Never call 9-1-1 as a joke.
  • Never call 9-1-1 to ask for information.
  • Never call just to see if 9-1-1 is working.
  • Stay off the telephone unless you have a critical need to make a telephone call.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 unless you need emergency response from police, fire or emergency medical personnel.
  • If you experience other types of problems not related to these emergency services, call the appropriate telephone number for those services.

Other emergency phone tips

  • If you pick up your telephone to make a call and do not hear a dial tone, do not hang up. Simply wait a few seconds, and you will get a dial tone and be able to make your call.
  • Do you have an out-of-area contact? In an emergency, local phone lines could be jammed. If you have a friend or relative to call long distance, you should be able to get through. Your family can leave messages for each other and you can let people know you're okay.

What to say when you call 9-1-1

  • Tell the person what is wrong.
  • Tell the person your name, address and telephone number.
  • Do not hang up until they tell you that you should; they may have to ask you more questions.

Teach your children the correct use of 9-1-1

  • Parents should use the information on this sheet to talk to children about how and when to use 9-1-1. Knowing the right thing to do can save lives.

Keep phone lines clear during emergencies

  • During emergencies, telephone services become overloaded. You can help keep service available for those who need it most by making only calls that are critical. Limit FAX machine and computer use as well; their use also ties up phone lines.

Other languages

(All files are PDF.)

DOH Pub 821-013
Revised - October 2006
Reviewed annually

This document was produced in cooperation with the Emergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department.