FAQ's - St. Joseph County 911 Questions and Answers

Frequently asked questions

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

What should I do if I accidently dial 911?

If you dial 911 by mistake, or if a child in your home dials 911 when no emergency exists, do not hang up—that could make the dispatcher think that a emergency exists and possibly send responders to your location.  Instead simply explain to the call-taker what happened.

Why does the 9-1-1 dispatcher ask so many questions? Isn’t this delaying help being sent to me?

The dispatcher is trained to ask questions for police, fire, and medical calls. The dispatcher is asking questions to provide as much information as possible to the responders (police, fire, paramedics) for their and your safety, and so that the responders can efficiently help solve your problem when they arrive.

In addition, the dispatcher is trained to deliver potentially life-saving instructions over the phone before paramedics arrive. Asking these questions or giving instructions is not delaying help, as the COMPUTER-AIDED-DISPATCH (CAD) system allows for all the dispatchers in the communication center to work together. While one dispatcher is handling your call, another dispatcher is sending the help!

Why does the dispatcher always ask me if I want to speak to the officer?

Some citizens reporting a problem want to sign a complaint and some do not. Regardless, the police officer will still respond to investigate the complaint, but needs to know if the caller needs to be seen once the investigation is complete. If you do not want to speak to a police officer, simply tell the dispatcher and they will let the police officer know.

Can I dial 911 from a wireless phone without a wireless calling plan?

All wireless phones including those that are not subscribed to or supported by a specific carrier can be used to dial 911.  These uninitialized phones are often used to place malicious or fake calls to 911 call centers. These calls are a burden on the 911 system because they require the answering center to confirm whether or not an emergency truly exists. 

Oftentimes parents provide these uninitialized wireless phones as toys for young children, unaware that if the child dials 911, a live call will be connected with the local 911 call center. If a child dials 911 when no emergency exists do not hang up!  That could make the dispatcher think that an emergency exists, and possibly send responders to the location. Instead, simply explain to the call-taker what happened.

Why does the dispatcher ask me for my address, isn’t it right there on the screen when I call??

When a dispatcher receives a 9-1-1 call from your land-line, they receive your address and phone number. When a dispatcher receives a 9-1-1 call from your cell phone, they receive your phone number and a latitude and longitude reading which then gets translated into an address.

It is a national standard to ask you for your address and then verify the information provided against what is on the computer screen in both cases. Verifying the location of the incident is the most important thing the dispatcher does. If we don’t get help to the correct location, we have failed. Computer systems can be wrong, so asking for the address and verifying it is crucial.

What if my child does not know the address or location?

While an address or location is a vital piece of information, dispatchers are trained to deal with less than ideal circumstances. Dispatchers will have your child describe their surroundings and, if needed, will instruct them to go to a neighbors or ask anybody nearby for help.

How do I place a “test” call to make sure 9-1-1 works for me?

Test calls confirm that your local 911 service can receive your 911 call and has the correct location information. Test calls can be scheduled by contacting the St. Joseph County 911 Center using the non-emergency number at 574-235-9611.

How can I register my Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)?

VoIP service allows users to place and receive calls to and from traditional phone numbers using an Internet connection and can be used in place of traditional phone service. Because VoIP phones can be used anywhere an Internet connection is available, the 911 call center cannot locate callers unless the VoIP device is registered to a physical address through the VoIP provider. Anytime the VoIP phone is moved from one location to another, the owner should contact the provider to update the new physical location of the device.

What happens when I dial 9-1-1?

Many 911 call centers follow protocols that guide callers through a sequence of questions to quickly obtain information necessary for dispatching the right responders to the right location. Dispatchers may also provide instructions about what to do until help arrives. Even though protocols are designed to help dispatchers reassure callers and take charge of the situation, the experience can be stressful for a 911 caller who is not accustomed to dealing with emergencies. When you call 911, be prepared to answer the dispatchers questions, which may include:

1. The location of the emergency, including the street address
2.What city or town
3.The nature of the emergency
4.  Details about the emergency, such as a physical description of a person who may have committed a crime, a description of any fire that may be burning, or a description of injuries or symptoms being experienced by a person having a medical emergency. 

Remember, the dispatchers questions are important to get the right kind of help to you as quickly as possible. Be prepared to follow any instructions the call-taker gives you. Many 911 centers can tell you exactly what to do until help arrives, such as providing step-by-step instructions to aid someone who is choking or needs first aid or CPR. Do not hang up until the dispatcher instructs you to do so.


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