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What you need to know before you dial 911

In a crisis, help is three numbers away: 911, what is your emergency? The caller's next words can help police officers, firefighters and paramedics rush to the aid — or delay their arrival. Technology and training are just part of what makes 911 work. The public can do its part by knowing what to do — and what not to do — when calling for help. Why are you asking so many questions? When are you going to send help? Can't you tell where I'm calling from? Tampa Bay's 911 managers hear those questions all the time. Their advice: stay as calm and patient as possible, listen carefully and keep answering all those questions. "People don't understand why we want to keep them on the phone," said Pinellas County sheriff's Lt. Jim Bordner. "We want to make sure that, one, the situation is not going to change for the worse and, two, so we can provide information to first responders." Paramedics, for example, can't treat a victim of an attack until police secure the scene. And police need to know where the suspects are and if they're armed before they arrive. Callers often lose patience because they think the questions are delaying help. It's not. Help is usually dispatched within seconds of the 911 call. Here's what you need to know before you dial 9-1-1.

Relay basic information quickly: What kind of help do you need (police, fire, medical, or all three), where do you need it and what number are you calling from?

• Confirm your location. 911 systems can quickly determine most landline addresses or cell phone coordinates, but technology isn't foolproof. Even cell phones and landlines with no service can call 911, but their locations are harder to track Ditto for old cell phones.

• Know when NOT to call 911. The emergency line is for emergencies in progress. Call if someone is stealing your car — but not if a suspect stole it yesterday. Those calls should go to the main line of your local police agency. Also, a big wreck on a busy highway has probably already been called in. But a crash in an isolated area? That might warrant a call.

• Call even if you can't talk. Just dialing 9-1-1 can direct rescuers to you.

What you need to know before you dial 911 11/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 8:06am]

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