9-1-1 FAQ

Dispatch keyboard, headset, and mouse.

When should I use 911?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about 911 is when to use it. It is not meant to be used to contact the police department about routine matters. 911 is solely used to report emergencies.

What is an emergency?  

An emergency is when IMMEDIATE Police, Fire Department, or Paramedic assistance is necessary to protect life or property.

Call 911:  (For emergencies only)
  • To report a fire
  • To save a life
  • To stop a crime in progress or report one that has just occurred
Call (650) 522-7700:  (Do not call 911)
  • When a crime has already occurred and the offenders are no longer on scene
  • For nuisance calls (e.g., barking dogs; landscape and construction noise)
  • To obtain information from the police department
  • To speak with an officer
  • For non-emergency situations

What happens when I call 911 accidentally and hang up? 

The dispatcher will try to call you back. If the dispatcher reaches a child on the phone, he/she will ask to speak to an adult. An officer will be dispatched to the residence if no adult can be reached. If no one answers, an officer will be dispatched. If the line is busy, the dispatcher will attempt to break through with the help of a phone operator to see if the call was a misdial or there is an emergency requiring response.

Your already know my address and phone number, so why do you ask me again? 
Computers can make mistakes, so we must ask your address as verification. Also, many people call from a neighbor's house and we don't want to waste precious time sending help to the wrong address.

Why do you ask so many questions when I call 911? 

We ask questions pertaining to the location of an incident and descriptions of vehicles and people involved. Often we ask for descriptions of the victim's clothing as well as the suspect's so responding officers know who to look for on scene.  We also need to know if a crime is still occurring or has occurred some time ago.  This alerts officers to whether the suspects may still be near the crime scene, or if they may need to search the area for them.

Why can't you send help instead of keeping me on the phone? 

In an emergency, you are likely to be upset or even frantic. Remember, while you are speaking to the dispatcher, help is being dispatched, and may already be en route to your location. Sometimes the dispatcher will keep you on the phone to calm you until help arrives. They often advise on how to aid victims until help arrives. The best thing you can do is stay on the phone with the dispatcher and do as advised. If you hang up before all necessary information is relayed, you may delay the arrival of help!

Are officers delayed in responding while the dispatcher asks me questions?  

No. When you call 911, be prepared to answer the call-taker's questions, which may include:
  • The location of your emergency, including street address
  • The phone number you are calling from
  • The nature of the emergency
  • Details about the emergency, such as physical description of a person who may have committed a crime, a description of any fire that may be burning, or a description of injuries or symptoms being experienced by a person having a medical emergency. 

Why do you ask me the same questions repeatedly? 

The dispatcher strives to be as efficient and quick as possible. They sometimes repeat questions when a caller is too frantic to be understood. We understand that when a crisis occurs, it is human nature to get upset, but when callers scream, cry, or curse, and dispatchers can't get the necessary information, desperately needed help is delayed. Try to speak clearly and answer questions completely.

Can you tell my address when I call 911 from my cellular phone?  

All cellular telephones manufactured after 2001 are equipped with the ability to identify the general location of where the cellular telephone call was placed, but not the exact address. Understand there could be a delay in obtaining the specific latitude and longitude coordinates, due to the wireless signal and latency in the wireless system. The dispatcher will still ask you to confirm your location when on the line.