Skip to content

tips on dialing 911

  1. Stay calm and Speak clearly
  2. Listen carefully to the Dispatchers questions and answer each question carefully.
  3. Verbally answer all questions. Remember the Dispatcher cannot see your hand or head gestures, signs or motions.
  4. State your emergency. 
  7. Do not hang up until the Dispatcher tells you it is OK to do so. They may need to ask additional questions regarding the emergency or an EMS dispatcher may give your instructions to help stabilize the patient before the ambulance gets to your location.
  8. Follow the instructions of the Dispatcher and remain calm.
  9. If you can, stay by the phone in case the 9-1-1 call-taker needs to call you back.

What to Do if You Can’t Speak

  1. Stay calm
  2. Dial 9-1-1
  3. Either leave the phone off the hook or make some sort of noise to let the dispatcher know there is an emergency.
  4. With enhanced 9-1-1 providing your address, the call-taker can dispatch police assistance to your location.

Here are some of the questions the dispatcher may ask you if you are reporting a crime in progress:

  • Give a brief description of what occurred.
  • Where exactly did the incident occur? Include building and room/area.
  • How long ago did the incident occur?
  • Did the suspect(s) have any weapons?
  • Which direction was the suspect headed?
  • Was the suspect on foot or in a vehicle?
  • What did the suspect(s) look like? Describe each suspect one at a time.
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Height & Weight
  • Hair Color & Length
  • Clothing
  • Glasses/Facial Hair
  • Was the suspect carrying anything?
  • Vehicle Description, Color, Make, Model, License Plate

Using a Wireless Phone

When Dialing 9-1-1 From Your Cell Phone

  1. Call only for immediate emergency assistance—medical, fire, or police.
  2. Be prepared to provide your location and any essential information the dispatcher may need.
  3. Stay on the line until told to hang up. You may be transferred to another agency.

Help Reduce Unnecessary Calls

  • Use non-emergency numbers for your local law enforcement agency when you do not need immediate assistance.
  • If medical, fire or police are already on scene, it is not necessary to call 9-1-1 again. Instead, call a non-emergency number if you have additional information or witnessed the incident.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 for non-emergency incidents (i.e., requesting road conditions, asking why traffic is backed up, requesting driving directions, or other similar reasons). Be prepared; contact your local CHP office directly, using a non-emergency number.
  • Use or maintain a landline at home and at work for 9-1-1 calls, as the dispatcher is more likely to get accurate location information from a landline.
  • Using 9-1-1 in non-emergency situations prevents critical emergencies from being attended to.


  • Do not hang up on an accidental 9-1-1 call. Inform the dispatcher that the call was an accident before you hang up.
  • Do not pre-program 9-1-1 into your or your child’s cell phone’s speed dial. This can lead to accidental calls.
  • Teach young children how and when to dial 9-1-1 from a cell phone. Train them to press 9-1-1 and the “send” button only in an emergency.
  • Even cell phones without active service can dial 9-1-1. Take batteries out of cell phones before recycling them or giving them to a child to play with.

7-digit numbers vs. 911

By Lisa Lucett
Dispatch Coordinator, Systems Unit
Public Safety Communications
San Mateo County

Generally, we encourage people to dial 911 from a landline phone if one is available. If only a cell is available, we still encourage the use of 911. Inside of San Mateo County, most of the police departments receive wireless 911 calls directly (that are not placed from the freeway) thus eliminating the historical delays. Calls placed from the freeway go directly to CHP as they are the primary police jurisdiction. I can’t speak for agencies outside of this county with respect to their service levels. Callers do sometimes experience delays in getting through to CHP on 911 because of the extraordinary call volume they experience. This will continue to improve as more and more cities upgrade their phone equipment to receive wireless 911 calls. Citizens should be reminded that numerous 911 calls placed to CHP are in fact NON-emergencies, which in turn delay their ability to answer the true emergencies in a timely manner. 911 should be reserved for true emergencies, not stranded vehicles and other minor traffic issues. 

We discourage the use of 7-digit numbers to report emergencies at this point for several reasons:

  1. People get out of the thought process of using 911 when they are outside of San Mateo County. If they call us on the 7-digit number when they are outside of the county, they are delaying connection to the correct services since we would need to “look up” the correct numbers to contact the appropriate jurisdiction.
  2. Using a 7-digit number eliminates the ability to identify the caller’s phone number and location thus further complicating the call verification process. We will ask you to repeat your phone number and the location of the emergency at least twice if you call on a 7-digit number. We only have to verify the information once if you use 911.
  3. A ringing 911 will always take priority over a 7-digit line. If you are trying to report an emergency on a 7-digit line, and the 911 lines are ringing, \your call will be prioritized lower for answering.

It does make sense however to program the 7-digit numbers (in your case 363-4911) for the police departments (and CHP) in your local area or route of travel to report non-emergency and/or non-freeway related issues.

Additionally, in areas with limited cellular coverage the cell signal may not hit enough cell towers for the location to be triangulated properly in which case the call will go to CHP. This may be the case for some areas of Vista Verde. If you reach the CHP’s recording when you call 911, AND you are reporting an emergency in the Vista Verde/Los Trancos area, it might be better to hang up and use the 363-4911 number to reach the Sheriff’s office. But if they answer right away, stay on the line because they will transfer you to us! But for all the reasons above… we always recommended starting with 911!

911 Cell Phone Location Estimation

In case of emergency, you can dial 911 then press SEND from your handset to reach a 911 operator in your area. This will also activate the GPS locator chip in your phone. This chip which is present in all wireless phones is used solely for tracking purposes by Emergency 911 Services and does not function like a typical GPS device. This helps the authorities to locate where you are. Verizon Wireless cannot guarantee that you will be systematically located after dialing 911 from your wireless phone. In many places Public Safety still relies on the caller’s descriptions to locate those in need. Enhancements to the Public Safety 911 system will make it possible for Public Safety to read your callback number and to estimate your location. However, given the many variables with wireless radio service, no design will be perfect.

Enhanced 911 rules requires wireless carriers to automatically provide the telephone number of the 911 caller and far more precise location information, within 50 to 100 meters in mos