Dickinson County Courthouse, Spirit Lake, Iowa

Calling 911

Chances are that you and everyone you know will call for emergency assistance at least once or twice in your lifetime. However, no matter what your emergency is, you will probably experience feelings of anxiety, fear, or loss of control due to the potentially critical situation at hand. This information will hopefully lessen some of the anxiety caused by calling for emergency help by explaining what you, the caller, can expect when dialing an emergency assistance number.
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Location, Location, Location

The first question a 911 dispatcher will ask is "What is the location of your emergency?" Being able to provide your location will mean a quicker response by emergency personnel. If you have to call 911, be ready to provide an address, intersection, or highway number with mile marker.

What to expect when you call 911

A professionally trained emergency call taker/dispatcher will answer your call to 911. You must have the composure to answer several questions about the situation as the questions help to determine what emergency services will be sent to your location. Be ready to give medical information and describe any person (male, female, age, height, description of clothing) or vehicle (color, type, last direction of travel) involved in the incident.

Your job, as the caller, is to answer the questions as accurately as possible and to pay particular attention to the call taker’s instructions. Also, since an emergency situation tends to provoke a great deal of anxiety, it’s up to you to remain as calm as possible. Do not argue. Do not lose your patience. Don’t tell the call taker to hurry. They already know that. Every question the call taker asks is important and designed to assist in the most appropriate and timely response to your emergency. The call taker will stay on the line with you as long as the situation dictates. Do not hang up until the call taker says it is okay to hang up. If the connection is lost, for whatever reason, the call taker will try to call you back.

There are other ways you, the caller, can assist. For example, if possible, you should unlock the front door to allow easy access for emergency responders, and put all pets inside a closed room. You may want to turn on the outdoor lights of the residence or business to increase visibility. If outside and aiding a victim of an accident, try to find someone who can flag down the emergency vehicle from a safe distance as it approaches.

Questions to expect

The dispatcher will ask you a series of basic questions:

  • Name
  • Address/Location
  • Phone Number
  • Exact Nature of the Emergency

Once these questions have been answered, more detailed questions will be asked to ensure everything about the situation is obtained.

It's the goal of the Dickinson County Communications Center to ensure an accurate and quick response to the emergency you are reporting, and answering these questions will assist in the proper response.

Why does 911 ask so many questions?

The Dispatcher may only have one opportunity to gather information about the emergency, therefore it is important to get as much information as possible if the situation allows. Address verification and a call back number are crucial.

Also, based on your answers to questions, a more appropriate dispatch of emergency personnel may be provided. For example, a victim injured in a traffic accident that is trapped in a vehicle may elicit a different response from emergency responders than someone who has broken their arm.

Things to remember

General 911 Rules

  • Make sure the numbers on the outside of the residence or your rural house marker sign is clearly visible from the roadway day or night.
  • If you THINK you or someone else is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately and let the dispatcher help you.
  • 911 should be used for emergencies only, including serious medical problems (chest pains), life threatening situations (person with weapons), fires or crimes in progress.
  • If you are not sure, call 911.
  • Never be afraid to dial 911 because of uncertainty.
  • Be ready to give medical information and describe any person (male, female, age, height, description of clothing) or vehicle (color, type, last direction of travel) involved in the incident.
  • If 911 is called by mistake, do not hang up; stay on the line and tell the dispatcher that everything is all right. If you don’t, the dispatcher may assume that an emergency has occurred and send a response team to your location.

For Adults

  • Do not tell children to dial “nine-eleven” since there is no “eleven” on the telephone keypad.
  • Talk to children about when and how to call 911.
  • Always teach “nine-one-one” as the emergency number.
  • Remind children not to make false 911 calls; it is unlawful and can cause a delay in responding to a real emergency.

A Checklist

  • Do not tell the dispatcher to hurry
  • Do not argue
  • Answer the dispatcher’s questions as accurately as possible
  • Remain calm
  • Pay particular attention to the dispatcher’s instructions and follow instructions carefully
  • Do not lose your patience
  • Do not hang up until the dispatcher says it is okay to hang up