The Importance of 911, Do's and Don'ts

If you live or work in Maryland Heights and dial 911, your phone call will likely be answered by a Maryland Heights Police Dispatcher, 24/7, 365 days of the year.

If you are ever in a situation that causes you to dial 911, your hope is that the phone call will be answered immediately. However, if someone misuses 911, it will require the dispatchers to divert their time and attention from something that could be a real emergency.

Please remember, it is the responsibility of the dispatcher to ask questions to gather information. As they are asking you questions, we can assure you that they are also getting help on the way! Our dispatchers are extreme multi-taskers and they do a wonderful job obtaining information from you and updating officers who are on the way.

It’s a tough job, so we thought we would go over the Do’s and Don’ts of 911:

DO use 911 for emergencies ONLY.        
  •  Life threatening medical situations (chest pains, seizures, bleeding, falls)
  • Crimes in progress (anything that is happening RIGHT NOW)
  • Fires
  • Life-threatening situations (person(s) with a weapon, physical fights, someone who is suicidal)        
  • Vehicle Accidents
DON’T dial 911 for a non-emergency. 
  • Delayed reports of crime where the suspect is no longer there, such as: vehicle break-ins, theft of         property, vandalism, etc. 
  • Peace disturbances
  • Stand-by to keep the peace
  • Panhandlers 
  • Intoxicated person(s) who are         not disorderly 
  • Barking dogs or animal running         loose
  • Directions
  • To get a phone number (use         directory assistance by calling 411)
  •  Attempting to contact an officer

Instead, dial the non-emergency telephone number (314) 298-8700, extension 1.

DO teach your children how to dial 911 in an emergency This is especially true if you don’t have a landline. Their address is one of the most important things to teach them.

DON’T let children play with real phones. This includes house phones and old, unused cellular phones. A disconnected cellular telephone can still call 911. If there is an open line, the dispatcher must send someone to investigate to make sure that an emergency does not exist. This takes away resources from real emergencies.

DO stay on the phone if you or your child accidentally dials 911. When the dispatcher answers, explain that you dialed by mistake and that you do not have an emergency. If you hang up without saying anything, a dispatcher will call back to confirm that there is no     emergency. If you don’t answer, a police officer will be sent to your location to confirm that you are okay. 

DON’T panic if you have to call 911. When the dispatcher answers, briefly describe the type of incident you are reporting. For example, “I am reporting a car fire,” or “I am reporting someone who can’t breathe.” Stay on the line with the dispatcher. In most cases, the dispatcher will keep you on the phone while the emergency units are responding to ask additional questions or to obtain ongoing information.

DO exercise patience when the dispatcher asks you questions. While you are answering their questions, help is already on the way. The information you provide is being relayed to the emergency response units who are enroute. Dispatchers have been trained on what questions to ask. Your answers should be brief and responsive. Remain calm and speak clearly. If you are not in a position to give full answers (a suspect is nearby), stay on the phone and the dispatcher will identify the need for yes/no questions. 

DON’T become frustrated if you get transferred to a different 911 call center. Cellular 911 calls are routed to the nearest tower. This tower could bounce your call to a different city or county’s call center, especially if you are in a moving car. Be prepared to give the dispatcher your complete location. Dispatchers are very knowledgeable in the geography of the area and have the ability to transfer to the correct agency. 

DO give them your location. The most important piece of information you can relay to dispatchers is your location. If you dial 911 from your cell phone, we NEED your location. If you dial from a landline, the system will display your telephone number and address but the dispatcher will need to confirm your location and you may need to give specific details about the location for a victim or suspects. 

DON’T ignore the dispatchers instructions. They may tell you to leave the building, secure yourself in a room or take another action to protect yourself. They have gone through extensive training and will be relaying information to the officer. Their goal is to keep you safe. 

DO give the dispatchers details if they ask. Be prepared to describe the person involved in any incident, including: race, sex, age, height, weight, color of hair, description/color of clothing, presence of a hat, mask, glasses or facial hair. Also for any vehicles involved, be prepared to give details on the color, year, make, model or type (sedan, pick-up truck, SUV, van, semi truck, etc.). If the vehicle is moving or has already left, the dispatcher will need to know the direction it went. As minor as these details may seem, they can be a major help during an investigation. 

DON’T hang up until the dispatcher tells you to. Follow any instructions the dispatcher gives you, such as meeting the officer at the door or flagging down firefighters at the curb. There are some situations where the dispatcher will remain on the phone until help arrives. 

Be Safe!
Officer Terry Mancusi