Introduction: When and 'How' to Dial 9.1.1; Before and During

About: In a world where the blind leads the blind, who do you follow?
Most all countries have an emergency phone number; in Canada and the USA it's 911; In England 999, Australia 000, and other countries, numbers such as 112, 449, or even 7, 8, or 9-digit numbers are used. Japan uses 119. From herein I'll refer to all emergency agencies as simply '911'.

PMDerinsleep added:
turkish numbers are 112 for ambulance, 155 for police, 110 for fire;
and 156 for 'gendame' (sic), o/a jandarma, which is half-police half-soldier.

This number can be daunting if you're unfamiliar with the system, what the number is used for, as well as how and when to use the number. This instructable aims to inform the reader on how to prepare for an emergency call, what to do when calling, and what is likely expected of the caller. The questions asked will vary by location and 911 service, but most all will ask for the same type of data.

My background: I'm a 911 dispatcher in Canada. I'm one of the thousands of people in the world on the other end of the phone when you have an emergency. I took quite a bit of training in dealing with people, specifically to ascertain information. This information is to get with our motto - to send the right response, to the right place, at the right time, as safely as possible.

This instructable does NOT aim to give any medical or safety instructions pertaining to ANY call types. Not only for reasons of liability, but for your own safety it is best to follow the instructions given by the operator when you call 911. I can with clean conscience suggest that all people get a lifesaving/first aid course and maintain CPR/AED/First Aid certification as per local standards. Brushing up on your local/provincial/state laws regarding protection of good samaritans is also a good idea.

Note - sorry to those who found/are reading this because of the proximity to the 9/11 tragedy, I just looked at the calendar on the computer and it reminded me of what I say 200 times a day at work - and how much I've been meaning to write this instructable.

Step 1: BEFORE You Call - Preparation

Before you have to call 911 there are a few thing you can do to prepare before the emergency to make the response quicker and the event less stressful for you and your family.

Emergency Info Sheet

Remember, this sheet might be used by someone not familiar with your house or area, such as a child, visitor, or neighbor. Rehearse reading this info with children, and keep a copy near each phone, possibly ON each phone. The fridge is a great place to store a copy as well. Whatever you choose, make sure everyone in your family is aware of the location(s).

Compile the following to an info sheet including but not limited to:
italics = optional

Your exact address.
Your phone number.
Driving directions to your location.
A description of the house.
A list of pertinent emergency and non-emergency phone numbers.
Common Name of owner of house/property. (Ex: Everland Estates)
Nearby landmarks. (Ex: Across from the Southridge Pond)
Backup contact info for key-holder. (Ex: Mr. Smith works at XYZ comapny + telephone number)
Any unusual hazards at your location (Ex: Ammo, explosives, non-household chemicals, weapons, high voltage, etc.)

Your exact address:
This is your address in whatever form your municipality/district/county commonly uses. Make sure to include (if appropriate) apartment/house number, road, and bordering intersections.
Ex: Apartment 107 - 4616, 106A ST NW
*106A ST between 46th and 47th AVE*

Your phone number
...kinda goes without saying. Make sure to include area code!

Driving directions to your house
This is CRUCIAL if you live in newer subdivisions, or in rural locations. Phrase them in complete sentences, with specific turns, and distances.
*Start at the Kensington drive Mcdonalds heading east on Kensington:*
*go 2km east and turn right into McReary subdivision on 32 ave*
*go 3 blocks south and turn left to McRooney blvd*
*third house on left, number eleventy billion*

Description of your house/area
Be specific, anything that can be quickly used to identify your house
*The large brick house on the corner* (assuming there are no other corner brick houses on corners)*
*The house with the red truck* - be sure it's UNIQUE
*The one with the big octagon window out front*

A list of pertinent emergency and non-emergency phone numbers.
This list should/could include:
*Utility company(ies) business-hours and after-hours numbers.
*Nursing medical question hot-line - there are several and they can decide if you need an ambulance or just an aspirin.
*Veterinary clinic 24-hour emergency number. (pets are people too, sadly we don't send ambulances for them)
*City hall numbers for municipal issues
*Call-before-you-dig 1-800 number - you don't want to knock out a city block of telephone lines, I've done it.
*Police Non-emergency number (also called the complaint line)
*Fire Non-emergency number (sometimes direct line to the fire station)
*Medical Non-emergency number (hospital or nursing line)

House Preparation

Signage: Make sure your house number/address is bold and visible from the street, DAY AND NIGHT.  Your emergency crew and/or pizza guy will thank you.  Consider getting a lit up house number sign from a home improvement store, or getting retroflective numbers that glow when any light is shone on the house.  It doesn't do much good to have the right address if the crew cannot tell which house is yours.  A porch light might not cut it if the light is off and you break your leg in the basement - you won't be able to turn it on.  There are options that are solar powered so you don't need to modify your house to install a bright safe light.

Path: This should go without saying, but keep your walkways clear of obstructions and debris.  Have snow/ice cleared regularly.  The emergency crews might need to bring a stretcher into your house, and if they can't get the stretcher inside, it can delay life-saving medical attention.  Crews are at risk on scenes where they don't know the lay of the land - Twisting an ankle because of a hole in the yard or crack in the path is NOT going to help during an emergency.

Step 2: WHEN the Emergency Happens

Not if. When.

Take a deep breath, RELAX, pick up the phone, and dial your emergency number. Speak slowly, and enunciate clearly. Listen to the questions carefully and provide accurate responses.

Be it a fire/rescue emergency, medical emergency, or police emergency, the same crucial information will be required for ANY response.

1. Location, Location, Location. The ambulance is a rolling emergency room.. Various fire trucks can work wonders with countless situations, and Police officers are equipped to handle a multitude of events; but only if they know WHERE the problem is. You will likely be asked to repeat the address to confirm. Errors are NOT an option, and remember if we send the ambulance to thirty-th street instead of thirteen-th street. 10 seconds to repeat the address is FAR less time than it takes to drive 17 blocks the wrong direction, not find the address, then go BACK 17 blocks to the correct address.

2. Phone number you're calling from. Not surprisingly, calls get disconnected, especially cel phones. There are many instances where we have to call back, and the ANI information is incorrect. Once again, confirmation is better than us losing you before we have enough information to respond. Be ready to repeat the number.

3. Tell me exactly what happened. This question seems ambiguous, but really its quite specific. Tell me EXACTLY what happened. Be clear, and concise, and complete.
Bad: "Hi, how's it going?, ya, so I have a problem here, and need help right away. I'm in and theres this guy, and we were playing football, and he walked over, and we stopped playing to talk to him and then he walked away . Then later we were walking home and he was laying on the ground, but we thought he was sleeping. Then we went back out after supper and hes still laying there and I think hes sick.....". Not concise.
Good: "I was walking along and theres a guy on the sidewalk." Not specific.
Best: "I just found a man lying on the sidewalk ... he's not breathing, and I think he may be dead." Plenty of information, but not rambling.

The next questions will entirely pertain to the nature of your emergency: They may not seem pertinent to your exact problem, but they will assist the responding crews by eliminating possible responses. Pay close attention to what is being asked, and answer accurately and concisely. You will likely get questions like:

1. Patient age?
2. Status of patient, awake?  Breathing?
These will in the fastest manner possible determine if they need immediate lifesaving instructions (like CPR, defibrilation, heimlich-abdominal thrusts, controlling bleeding etc).

1. Callers name?
2. Safety questions:
>>Are you safe?
>>Is everyone else safe?

Police: LOTS of questions, the more information the better, especially relating to crimes in progress.
I wont go too specific, police generally want the Who, What, When, Where, Why/How and Weapons (safety). - in no particular order.
1.Who: Accused, Victim, Suspects, Witnesses - Through description and identity if possible.
2.What: What happened? Whats happening now? What will happen?
3.When: a robbery is a vastly different priority if it happened yesterday as opposed to in-progress.
4.Where: Location, specifics like where in the building, what room, where in the park, etc.
5.Why/How: What caused it to happen, if its likely to happen again, motivation, etc.
6.Weapons: Crew safety is #1.

Step 3: Useful Background Information

Not many years ago there was no '911' system. There were separate 7-digit phone numbers for each service, each with it's own dispatch. A separate number for police, fire, and ambulance had to be used. There was little in the way of a standard protocol for call-takers to use in order to gather accurate information, and information gathered was rarely shared between services.

This was highly inefficient, as most moderate-to-severe incidents require 2 or 3 of the services to respond (think motor-vehicle crashes; police to secure the scene, control traffic etc, fire to operate rescue equipment/put out fires, and ems to fix people. A better system that has begun to emerge is combined tri-service centres which dispatch all three from the same location. Information travels as fast as a click of a mouse - and everyone gets up-to-date info much faster. Most dispatch centres these days have moved to bi/tri-service, with police sometimes left to a specific separate centre for various reasons such as complexity and security.

With technology ever-improving and tele-com systems upgrading, most 911 centres have moved to enhanced-911 (e-911). This means that when you call, your phone number, and a database entry of your address from the phone company are delivered straight to the dispatcher's computer. This is referred in the industry as Automatic Number Information/Automatic Location Information (ANI/ALI). ANI/ALI Information for the most part is NOT delivered with cel-phones.

The next upgrade being deployed is the ability for the dispatcher to retrieve your GPS location direct from the embedded GPS in a cel-phone. Some areas already have this feature, MOST do NOT. It has been argued by opponents of the system that it invades your privacy - even though it is an option to enable or disable in your phone - it could arguably be abused by police to find suspects etc. Currently where the system is not enabled, the dispatcher is presented with the location of the cel phone tower you're using, and the angle (Azimuth) from the tower to your phone.

See the wikipedia article: e911 for more information.

Step 4: Axioms and Afterthoughts

These are a few tidbits that make the emergency more bearable for all parties involved. They do not apply to ALL situations and locations, but for the most part offer best known practices as of this writing.

When you have an emergency, time seems to stand still.
The response you have requested cannot possibly arrive fast enough. I have personally needed critical medical recussitation for my father in the past, and hearing the sirens in the distance, it felt like they took literally forever. In reality, from the moment I had called the ambulance had been made aware of the emergency, and started driving as soon as they had enough information to respond. While the call-taker is processing your information into the computer, someone else is working with that data to send you the quickest accurate response possible.

If you dialed 9-1-1 in error, do not hang up the telephone.
Instead, stay on the line and explain to the dispatcher that you dialed by mistake and that you do not have an emergency. You will not get in trouble. If you hang up, a dispatcher will call back to confirm that there is no emergency. If you don't answer, a police officer must be dispatched to confirm that you are OK. This will needlessly take resources away from genuine emergencies.

Do NOT hang up until the dispatcher tells you to.
Critical information that you may not have considered pertinent may have been occluded, resulting in wasted time having to call back.

911 is NOT, and I cannot stress this enough, NOT 411. We do not have xyz phone number. If you don't have a phone book or access to the internet for a directory listing, call 411 or the operator (0).

Do not program 911 into your speed dial
This seems counter-intuitive, but really 911 is very fast to dial by itself - even on a rotary phone. Having a speed dial button assigned to 911 is only inviting accidentally mis-dialing.

Take the battery out if you give an old phone as a toy for a child
When I started it amazed me how many people give their children functional, de-activated cel phones. What they don't realize is that any cel phone, hooked up or not, bill paid or not can still dial. The feds put this in as safety legislation when mobile phones were introduced. It's only a matter of time before the kids will dial through and start a huge investigation of the 'noise in the background'.

After you hang up with the dispatcher (edit, thanks v2vfd for reminder)
You will likely be told a variety of scene preparation instructions. These include, but are NOT limited to:

-Unlock the door.
-Turn on any outside lights.
-If possible, have someone meet the crew; but do not leave the patient alone.
-Put away any family pets. I know you love sharing your dog/cat/alligator but there is a more important task at hand ;-)

-Leave the area immediately.
-Do not carry out anything that is on fire.
-Get others out to safety.
-Assign someone to guide the emergency crews in.
-Do NOT attempt to extinguish the fire, or go back in for possessions.

Police: - There are a hundred instructions, and they apply to very specific situations.
-First priority:  Stay safe - hide, be quiet, and/or lock the door.
-Second priority:  Preserve evidence - the scene, or clothing etc.  Do not touch ANYTHING!

When should/shouldn't I call? What qualifies as an emergency?
This is a touchy subject, and anywhere that could possibly need a disclaimer is here. I take no responsibility for the colloquial accuracy of this information. Wherever you are it's probably different from here, so these are guidelines. Bottom line is if you aren't sure, call.

Unnecessary calls waste limited resources, but it is far safer to call and be wrong, than not call and suffer irrevocable consequences of said delay.
When determined to be non-emergency, call the local listing for the service you require. Some examples of non-emergency calls include but are not limited to:

-Power outage.
-Property damage incident.
-Crimes that occurred in the past and the suspect is long gone.
-Hurt wild animal.
-Basement flooding with water
-Cat in a tree - some agencies still send a fire truck to provide this service, some do not, but it is NOT a 911 emergency. Also, whether they use a ladder or a hose is up to them ;-) There's a reason you'll never find a cat skeleton in a tree.

All of the above are definitely incidents that may require a response, but have a better option than 911, be it the power company, police incident complaint line, or bylaw/wildlife enforcement agency.

Emergency calls include:
-Any situation that is not tended to in an immediate fashion will result in serious damage or injuries, loss of life or property, or escalation of X situation.
-Any crime in progress, whether someone is hurt or not.

Thanks for reading - Please vote! Good or bad, I'd like to know what you think!