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How to Use 911

Emergencies happen when we least expect them, and they need fast thinking and action. Here are some things to know to help you be ready.

When to Call 911

A 911 emergency is when someone needs help right away because of an injury or an immediate danger. For example, call 911 if:

  • there's a fire
  • someone has passed out
  • someone suddenly seems very sick and is having a hard time speaking or breathing or turns blue
  • someone is choking
  • you see a crime happening, like a break-in
  • you are in or see a serious car accident

When you call 911, the emergency operator will ask what, where, and who questions such as:

  • "What is the emergency?" or "What happened?"
  • "Where are you?" or "Where do you live?"
  • "Who needs help?" or "Who is with you?"

You may feel scared or nervous if you have to call 911. That's OK. The emergency operators who answer the phone talk to a lot of people, including adults, who are nervous or worried when they call. And they are used to talking to kids. Just stay as calm as you can. If you talk too fast, the operator may have trouble understanding what's wrong and what kind of help you need.

Give the operator all the information you can about what the emergency is and how it happened.

Other Things to Know About 911

NEVER call 911 as a joke or just to see what might happen. When the emergency operator has to take the time to talk to people who don't have a real emergency, other people who call and do need help right away might have to wait. This is why dialing 911 as a prank is a crime in many places.

Also, make sure you are safe before you call 911. If your home is on fire, for instance, leave the house before calling 911. You can always call from someone else's house or from a cellphone.

Before an emergency happens, talk to your parents or another adult about when you should call 911. If you're not sure whether there's a real emergency and there are no adults around, it's a good idea to make the call. You could save someone's life.

Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date Reviewed: Mar 10, 2023

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