When Should You Call 911?

March 7, 2005 – Posted at 3:39 p.m. CST

JONESBORO -- Last year more than 16,000 911 calls were made to the Craighead County Communication Center in Jonesboro, and while most of those calls were emergency related, many were not.

Picking up the phone to call for help during an emergency is a natural reaction, but before you punch 911, you better make sure it's a real emergency.

"We get all sorts of calls. For example, folks call us wanting to know about events. They'll ask what time does the parade start? " said Bob Andrews, E-911 Communications Director, "They want to know if someone is in jail or what someone's bond is. They want to report a pothole or they lock their keys in the car when no one is in it. And those aren't emergency situations."

And when the weather gets bad, you better believe the phones are lighting up like Christmas morning.

"When the ice storms, or snow storms come in, they want to know the driving conditions. instead of calling the 800 number to check on traffic conditions, they want to call us," said Andrews.

"A lot of people will call 911 because it's more convent or it's free or they don't want to look up the non-emergency police department," said Sgt. Steven McDaniel of the Jonesboro Police Department.

If it's not an emergency, don't call!

"Those calls are hard for us to try to tell these people, I'm sorry, don't call here, call this number," said Andrews, "And sometimes our operators may seem abrupt or short with them, but we're taking multiple calls of people needing assistance."

"911 should only be used if it's a life threatening situation," said Sgt. McDaniel, "If there is a fire, if someone is unconscious, if someone's poisoned, if someone needs immediate medical attention."

If you accidentally call 911, stay on the phone and let the dispatcher know that it was only a mistake. If not, and you hang up, you can expect a phone call back.

McDaniel said, "If you call 911 from a cellular phone, you want to be sure to be as specific as possible about the area that you are located so the police can respond."

911 can locate the cell phone tower your call is coming from, but you need to know where you are.

"When you call 911 here, the first question that the dispatcher will ask you is '911, where is your emergency?' because we need to know where you are at, so we can get assistance," Andrews said.

Cell phones can be a big culprit in false 911 calls. But by locking the keypad, you can avoid accidentally calling.

Folks are getting smarter when dialing 911. In 2003, the Craighead County Communications Center answered nearly 21,000 911 calls. That's down nearly five thousand calls from last year.