FAQ's About 9-1-1

What is 9-1-1?

9-1-1 is the number most people in the U.S. and some in International countries call to get help in a police, fire or medical emergency. A 9-1-1 call goes over dedicated phone networks to the appropriate 9-1-1 answering point (PSAP) for the caller's location, and trained personnel then send the emergency help needed.

When should you call 911?

9-1-1 is only to be used in emergencies. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police, fire or rescue. 9-1-1 is for emergencies, potential emergencies, or when an emergency is imminent.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there a danger to life or property?
  • Is there a serious medical emergency (chest pains, seizures, bleeding, etc?)
  • Is there any type of fire (building, vehicle, brush, etc?)
  • Is there any crime in-progress (robbery, burglary, prowler, fights, etc?)
  • Are there any other life threatening situations (traffic accident with injuries, stuck in high water, etc?)
  • Is the caller or someone else the victim of a crime?

If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency, you should call 9-1-1. It is better to be safe and let the 9-1-1 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

What do I do to help the 9-1-1 dispatcher?

When reporting an emergency:

  • Remain calm
  • Speak clearly
  • Listen to instructions
  • Answer all questions

The person answering 9-1-1 is a trained dispatcher. They have been trained as to what questions to ask. Be prepared to follow the dispatcher's line of questioning. (e.g., WHEN did the incident occur, WHAT is happening, WHERE the situation is occurring, WHO is involved, is a WEAPON involved, what INJURIES have been sustained, etc.).

Why do dispatchers ask so many questions?

Dispatchers ask for pertinent information first - address, type of call, name of caller or those involved. Once the initial information is obtained, additional questions may be asked depending on the type of call. The questioning will not slow down the dispatching of the appropriate assistance. In emergency cases, this information is relayed immediately to field units so they may begin responding to the incident, while the dispatcher remains on the phone to obtain further details that are also relayed to the responding units as it is gathered, in real time. The dispatcher will further assist callers by giving instructions to callers on how to administer life saving techniques, such as CPR, during medical emergencies; to take steps to promote the personal safety of the caller, the victim and responding Police, Fire or EMS personnel, and to engage in those actions that preserve evidence to aid in the apprehension of suspects.

Where do I call for non-emergency assistance?

The Emergency Communications Center has several non-emergency telephone lines that are accessible to the public. For all non-emergency situations, please call 804-469-3755. Examples of calls that should be placed to the non-emergency number are:

  • Traffic accidents that do not involve injuries or hazards
  • Loud music or barking dogs
  • Late reported incidents such as theft with no suspect information
  • Requests for information

Please, do not call the 9-1-1 Center at all to report: that electricity or other utilities are off; to notify authorities of traffic jams; to inquire about government services or to learn general information.

What should I do if I call 911 by mistake?

If you call 9-1-1 by mistake, DO NOT HANG UP. Stay on the line and tell the dispatcher that everything is all right. If a caller to 911 hangs up without stating the problem, the caller must be contacted in order to ensure that no actual emergency exits. This may involve the dispatching of an officer to your home or place of business in order to ensure that a problem does not exist. One common misconception that citizens have about dialing 911 by mistake is they will somehow get into trouble. This is not true!

Can the center communicate with the speech/hearing-impaired?

Yes. The Emergency Communications Center is equipped with Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) enabling communications with the speech/hearing-impaired callers.

If a caller uses a TTY/TDD, the caller should:

  • Stay calm, place the phone receiver in the TTY, dial 9-1-1.
  • After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times. This may help shorten the time necessary to respond to the call.
  • Give the call taker time to connect their TTY. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The 9-1-1 call taker should answer and type "GA" for Go Ahead.
  • Tell what is needed-police, fire department, or ambulance. Give your name, phone number and the address where help is needed
  • Stay on the telephone if it is safe. Answer the call taker's questions.

If a deaf or hearing/speech impaired caller does not have a TTY/TDD, the caller should call 9-1-1 and do not hang up. Not hanging up leaves the line open. With most 9-1-1 calls, the caller's address is displayed on the call taker's screen and help will be sent.

Can I Text to 9-1-1?

Yes. Dinwiddie County Emergency Communications is capable of receiving text to 9-1-1 messages. To text to 9-1-1 enter 9-1-1 into the recipient field for the text. Be prepared to answer all the questions that will be asked by dispatcher.  

However, even though text-to-911 is available, if you are able to make a voice call to 911, and if it is safe to do so, you should always make a voice call to 911 instead. 

I speak a foreign language. Can the 9-1-1 Center communicate with me during an emergency?

Yes. When necessary, a 9-1-1 call taker can add an interpreter from an outside service to the line. The Emergency Communications Center provides a service made available from Language Line Inc. This service provides us over-the-phone interpretation of more than 140 languages, 24 hours a day. A non-English speaking caller may hear a short conversation in English and some clicking sounds as the interpreter is added to the line.

I am thinking of discontinuing my traditional phone service. 

Many people are making the decision to disconnect their home phone and move their home telephone to their cell phone. If you decide to use only a cell phone, keep these important tips in mind:

  • A typical home or work phone gives 9-1-1 call takers an exact location.
  • Cell phones with location technology only provide an approximate location.
  • If you have an outdated phone, the call taker may not receive any location information.
  • Choose your phone wisely. Your life could depend on it.

What if I have an Internet/Digital Phones?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) also called Internet, digital, broadband or cable phone service, is a rapidly growing alternative to traditional phone service. Low prices, more features, and the ability to choose a phone number from nearly anywhere in the country primarily fuel its popularity.

VoIP may look and appear to work like a traditional phone, but it connects to the internet, not a telephone line. There are several critical factors to consider regarding the impact of this service on your ability to call 9-1-1 in an emergency. It is important for consumers to understand the potential limitations the technology has with respect to accessing 9-1-1.

  • Check your service provider's website for emergency calling features
  • When calling 9-1-1, give your location, and call back number
  • Call back if you get disconnected.
  • If the power is out, your VoIP service may not work. Consider purchasing a backup power supply.
  • If you travel with your VoIP adapter, your call may not reach the correct 9-1-1 center. If you need 9-1-1 service, use another phone.
  • Be sure to keep your registered location current with your VoIP provider
  • Inform children, babysitters, and visitors about your VoIP service.
  • Post your address and call back phone number near your phone.
  • Consider keeping a land line phone for accessing 9-1-1 emergency services
  • Burglar alarms, fax machines, satellite TV, and DVRs often rely on analog modems. Check with your VoIP provider to determine if their service supports analog modems.