Knowing how to use emergency phone numbers correctly can help you save lives, including your own! Here are basic guidelines for calling 911 in cases of common emergencies.

Calling 911 General Guidelines

1. Stay on the line. Even if you get a recording, stay on the line so your call gets answered in order. Calling back creates more delay. If you reach an operator, get their permission before you hang up. If you get disconnected, try to call back.

2. Stay calm. Even under stress, try to speak clearly and avoid yelling. Be prepared to state your purpose quickly, whether you’re calling an ambulance or reporting a crime in progress.

3. Do what the operator says. The operator may ask a lot of questions. Know that emergency personnel will be on the way if needed, even while additional information is getting collected. For medical emergencies, the dispatcher will transfer you to health professionals who will give you instructions while you wait for an ambulance.

4. Take extra care with wireless 911 calls. The Federal Communications Commission is strengthening regulations but personnel may still be unable to determine your location in some cases.

* Look up your handset’s E911 capabilities and consider upgrading to a location-capable phone.

* Always give the operator your phone number so they can call you back if the call gets disconnected.

Guidelines for Specific Emergencies

1. Get out of danger. In emergencies like fires or violent crimes, get to a safe location if possible. Then you can stop and call 911.

2. Seek an expert opinion on medical needs. Sometimes a layperson may have difficulty evaluating a medical emergency. Calling 911 for guidance is okay! Common reasons to seek urgent care include electric shock, heart attack, severe bleeding, difficulty breathing, head and neck injuries or sudden blindness.

3. Call Poison Control first. If you suspect poisoning, call Poison Control first. That’s 1-800-222-1222 anywhere in the United States. Experts will advise you on what action to take immediately, which may include calling 911.

4. Know when to call 911 and when to try CPR. In general, if you have more than one person on hand, someone can call 911 while the other begins CPR. If you’re alone, it’s usually best to call 911 first. One exception is cases of drowning, in which you should usually start CPR briefly and then call.

Additional Suggestions

1. Ensure your house number is clearly visible. Have your house number posted so that it can be seen easily from the street even in the dark. You want ambulance drivers to arrive as quickly as possible.

2. Post your phone number and address beside every phone. Make it easier for babysitters and guests to manage emergency calls. In a crisis, details can be easily forgotten.

3. Store a folder of emergency numbers near each phone. List contact information for people you want notified in emergencies. You may want to include family doctors and your child’s other parent if you’re not living together.

4. Keep 911 off of speed dial. Speed dial is a leading cause of unintentional 911 calls. If you call by accident, explain the situation to the dispatcher rather than hanging up. This prevents resources from getting wasted confirming whether there was an emergency.

5. Teach your children and grandchildren about 911. Use a toy phone to avoid the impression that you can dial the number for anything but emergencies. Make sure kids learn their phone number and address. Teach them how to operate a phone and how to speak clearly.

We can all do our part to help emergency personnel provide the services we need. Learning how to call 911 and teaching your kids to do the same may save your life or that of a loved one.