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Title: Get the 4-1-1 on calling 9-1-1

image of a mobile phone dialing 9-1-1Jason Bivens, Assistant Chief
Baltimore County 9-1-1 Center

Ever call 9-1-1 in an emergency and wonder why the call taker asks so many questions? You can rest assured that answering questions does NOT delay your help. The dispatcher is generally already sending help while your call taker gets additional information from you. Baltimore County 9-1-1 call takers are trained to ask questions that will help you get the assistance you need as quickly as possible.

Here’s some background on how the 9-1-1 Center works and some important tips to help us help you as quickly as possible.

It is important to stay on the line until you receive instructions to hang up.  

When you call for assistance, remember to dial the most appropriate number based on what you are reporting:

EMERGENCY: Dial 9-1-1

Non-Emergency: Dial 410-887-2222

When you call, we will verify your address or location, get your contact number, and ask some initial questions to determine the nature of the incident and what equipment and emergency response is needed to best help the situation.

AFTER sending your information to the appropriate dispatcher we will ask several additional questions to get more specific details for responding units and we will provide important instructions to you prior to their arrival.  Our highly trained call takers provide potentially life-saving instructions like how to perform CPR, control bleeding, deliver a baby or do whatever the situation demands until help arrives. If you are in danger, you may be instructed to leave the building, secure yourself in a room, or take other protective actions.

While you might not understand why we ask certain questions, or it may seem trivial to you, know that they are for your safety and that of the responders coming to assist you. Please try to keep your answers focused on the question and as brief as you can; we will ask more questions if needed. 

Don’t guess or assume answers – if you really don’t know, then tell us that. 

Don’t withhold information – if you know who a suspect is but you don’t want to say, you could be seriously jeopardizing the safety of an officer.

Call volume in the 9-1-1 Communications Center fluctuates through the day. At any time, we can receive numerous high-priority calls, or perhaps several calls regarding a single incident. This may mean you receive a recorded message. Please, DO NOT hang up! Your call will be answered by the next available call taker.

If you mistakenly dial 9-1-1, please do not hang up before the 9-1-1 call taker answers the phone. The information from your phone still enters our system, and if you aren’t on the phone when the call taker answers, our policy is to send an officer to your location to ensure that you are safe. If you change your mind about needing assistance, stay on the line and explain that to the 9-1-1 call taker. The time spent calling people back who have inadvertently dialed 9-1-1 takes time away from people who need emergency help.

Here are some basic tips for calling 9-1-1. Reading these now may help you if an actual emergency occurs:

1.     Stay calm. Speak clearly. Emergency units (police, fire or ambulance) rely on the information you give to get to you as soon as possible and to be able to help you.

2.     Give your address or location and phone number.  Your address or location is vital information, and we cannot send help if we don’t know where you are.

3.     Quickly and briefly describe your problem. As soon as we know what you need, we will know who to send to help you (police car, ambulance or fire truck). Get to the point as soon as possible.

4.     Describe yourself and/or the suspect. Tell the 9-1-1 call taker where you are and what you look like, including what you are wearing. We want officers who are arriving on the scene to know who they can contact and that you are not a potential suspect. In appropriate situations you will be asked to describe the suspect including race and age.  These questions are not a determinant of whether or not a police officer will be sent but rather to provide the police officer information on what the suspect looks like. 

5.     Listen to the 9-1-1 call taker. Answer their questions and follow any instructions. Remain on the line until the 9-1-1 call taker says it is okay for you to hang up.

6.     Remember: Answering questions does NOT delay your help. At times the dispatcher is sending units while your calltaker gets additional information from you.

YOUR safety is our number one concern.


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