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There are several things to keep in mind when calling 9-1-1 for police, fire, or emergency medical assistance. The following frequently asked questions address important considerations related to emergency communications.

9-1-1 should only be called if you need an emergency response from police, fire or emergency medical personnel. For non-emergencies call your local police or fire department or other appropriate agency.

Examples of when to call 9-1-1 include:

  • A serious medical emergency (chest pains, seizures, bleeding)
  • Any type of fire (structure, vehicle, brush)
  • Any crime in progress (robbery, burglary, prowler, fights)
  • Any other life threatening situations (traffic crash with injuries)

Some common reasons that people call 9-1-1 that can and should be handled by other agencies include:

  • Power outage: You should call your utility company if you have questions or need to report a power outage
  • Traffic information: 5-1-1 is the number for traffic information in Washington State
  • Social services: 2-1-1 is available in Washington State to help with health and human service needs

In the case of an area-wide emergency, do not use your telephone for the first few hours following the event unless you have a life-threatening emergency and need to call 9-1-1. If you must reach friends or family, call or text an out-of-area contact. In an area-wide emergency, such as an earthquake, the best way to help yourself and your loved ones is to be prepared by having a plan in place and a kit prepared. Listening to a battery powered radio is the best way to get information about the emergency, and following an emergency, you can contact your local emergency management agency for recovery information.

If you are involved in or witness an auto accident where medical or police assistance is needed, call 9-1-1. However if you pass an auto accident and it does not appear that assistance is needed, or you see involved parties on a wireless phone, or emergency personnel have already arrived, please do not call 9-1-1.

9-1-1 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if you need us we want to help. Please use 9-1-1 only when you need an emergency response from police, fire, or emergency medical personnel, to ensure that this important service is available for those who are having a real emergency.

You will be asked:

  • The location of the emergency.
  • The nature of your emergency.
  • Once the nature of the emergency is established, the call receiver will ask you questions pertaining to your emergency and may give you pre-arrival instructions in the case of a medical emergency.
  • The phone number you are calling from.

It is important to speak clearly and to answer all of the questions the call receiver asks you as calmly and completely as possible. 9-1-1 call receivers are trained to ask specific questions that relate to the type of emergency you are experiencing. While you may be asked many questions, this information is not delaying a response by emergency personnel. In fact, emergency personnel are typically dispatched as soon as the location and nature of the emergency is known. The 9-1-1 center will continue to relay the necessary information to the emergency personal while they ask you questions, and in some cases they may keep you on the phone until help arrives.

Never hang up until the 9-1-1 call receiver tells you to do so, unless there is a threat to your safety.

Should you ever call 9-1-1 by mistake, stay on the phone and tell the call receiver that you misdialed, and that you do not have an emergency. If you hang up, the call receiver will try to call you back, and may dispatch an officer if they cannot determine that no emergency exists.

It is important to teach children that 9-1-1 is available if they need emergency assistance, but that the phone is not a toy and it is not a joke to call 9-1-1.

Not yet. King County is currently testing text-to-911, but is not yet ready to accept text messages from the public. If you do send a text to 9-1-1, you will receive a message instructing you to place a voice call to 9-1-1.

The Enhanced 9-1-1 (E-911) system has been operating in King County since September 1985. This system allows residents to use one number in an emergency and be routed to the correct call center. This routing is based on the address for landline and internet/broadband telephones and is based on the cell site that processes the call for wireless phones.

9-1-1 calls are directly routed to the police 9-1-1 centers, which may or may not also be the fire/medical 9-1-1 center. If fire or medical services are needed and the police call center does not handle these types of calls, you will then be transferred. This transfer procedure is done very quickly by well trained call receivers using equipment that transfers with the click of a button.

The E-911 system also provides automatic number and location identification on a screen at the 9-1-1 center. Landline phones display the phone number, address, and subscriber information on the 9-1-1 screen, which the call receiver will verify. Internet/broadband (also called VoIP) phones display the phone number, address, and subscriber information that the subscriber has entered, so it is extremely important that VoIP users keep their information up to date with their provider. Wireless phones will provide the phone number (if the phone has active service with a wireless company) and a general area the wireless phone is in. Depending on the wireless coverage in the area and the type of wireless phone, the accuracy of the location provided varies greatly. 9-1-1 callers using a wireless phone should always be prepared to provide their location to the 9-1-1 center.

Landline phones are the most reliable for calling 9-1-1, so whenever possible use a landline when you need to call 9-1-1. Pay phones can be used to call 9-1-1 without inserting coins. In case of power outages, be aware that Internet-based phone service (also known as VoIP) will not work. If you have landline phone service, you should keep a basic, corded phone that does not require electricity available to use during power outages. In addition, emergency phones are installed on the outside of many police and fire stations.

If your address has displayed incorrectly when you call 9-1-1, you should contact your telephone service provider to have your information corrected.

If you do not speak English or have trouble conveying the needed information in English, interpretation services are available at all 9-1-1 centers in King County.

If you are deaf or hearing impaired, 9-1-1 centers are equipped with TTY devices and call receivers are trained in their use. You can also use Video or IP Relay Services that will deliver your call to the 9-1-1 center in your registered location and interpret the call.

Private telephone systems, such as PBXs, may not interface with the Enhanced 9-1-1 system. Residents using these telephone systems may be denied the benefits of the Enhanced 9-1-1 system, such as the automatic location and number identification and selective routing features. In an effort to work towards the resolution of this issue, Washington State passed a law that requires private telephone systems which serve residents in settings where risks are highest to interface to the Enhanced 9-1-1 system by providing a call back telephone number and correct location information. The areas which are covered by this law are: residences served by shared telecommunications service providers; common and public schools; and some settings where multiple unaffiliated businesses are served by a commercial shared telecommunications service provider from a single switch.

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