Unnecessary 9-1-1 Calls Put Public at Risk

Make sure you're facing a true emergency before picking up the phone.

Dialing 9-1-1 is the first step in having your fire department, police or an ambulance respond to your emergency – the key word here is “emergency.”

“Not everyone views an ‘emergency’ the same, and many times fire and police are responding with their lights and sirens to an incident that is really not an emergency, but rather a call for assistance,” Lt. Denny Hughes said. “This becomes an unnecessary use of resources and puts the general public at risk, while emergency vehicles are rushing to your aid, driving quickly through traffic.”

The universal emergency telephone number, 9-1-1, will automatically connect you to a local emergency dispatch center, staffed by highly trained dispatchers who will notify law enforcement agencies, fire departments and medical responders that help is needed immediately.

When an emergency situation strikes, the person who needs help may be unable to think clearly or provide an accurate location of the emergency for quick response. Because of this, in 1967 former President Lyndon Johnson’s Crime Commission developed the 9-1-1 system, which went into effect nationwide in 1973.

Sgt. Ron Shankin says that hundreds of thousands of 9-1-1 calls are placed every year, and approximately 70 percent come from cell users. In fact, in some areas up to 50 percent of cell calls are “accidental” calls. So, you can see where this could tie up a dispatch center and possibly delay a response to an actual emergency, while a dispatcher is taking care of assistance calls, accidental calls or other non-emergency calls.

Only use the 9-1-1 system for situations that require immediate action because a person’s life or well being is being threatened, property is endangered, illegal activity is in progress or any time you believe you need the police, the fire department or an ambulance (paramedics). Here are some guidelines as to what an actual emergency is and how to place your call:


  • Vehicle accidents
  • Drowning
  • Industrial accidents
  • Electrical accidents


  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Electrocution
  • Choking
  • Poisoning
  • Childbirth


  • House fires
  • Vehicle fires
  • Workplace fires
  • Chimney fires
  • Brush/grass fires
  • Smoke in a building
  • Smell of smoke in a building
  • Known arson fires


  • Downed or low hanging power lines
  • Gas leaks
  • Natural disasters – tornadoes, high wind/rain damage, etc.
  • Power outages
  • Chemical leaks or spills


  • You are a victim of a crime
  • You witness a crime
  • Burglary
  • Assaults (physical, verbal, gun, knife)
  • Children, seniors or disabled person needing emergency assistance
  • Vehicle accidents
  • Drunk drivers (most are identified by cell callers)

Shankin says that when reporting any 9-1-1 emergency, be patient, calm and speak clearly and slowly to the dispatcher taking your information. If possible, get away from the source of danger you may be reporting. Use a neighbor’s phone or a cell phone to call for help.

  • Report your name and the type of emergency

  • Give the location of the incident (address, cross streets or landmarks)

  • The dispatcher will ask you a series of questions to determine which responding agency is needed

  • Listen carefully to their instructions and wait to answer any questions

  • Do not hang up – stay on the line with the dispatcher

  • If possible, have someone wait to meet or flag down the emergency personnel

  • At night, turn on a porch light

  • For medical emergencies, provide accurate patient info, including medications, medical history, and drug allergies to the paramedics

Hearing impaired callers and/or speech impaired callers can dial 9-1-1 using their TDD.

Callers who ds not speak English should provide information to someone who does speak English, and have them report the emergency. If there is no one who can do this for you, officials advise, consider learning key English phrases to make an emergency call.

“One way to delay a response to a true emergency is not being able to understand information the caller is trying to provide,” Hughes said. “Our city is ethnically diverse, with many non-English speaking residents. We’re trying to let them know that we can’t provide quick, professional help unless we have some clear, accurate information.”

The City of Farmington Hills uses enhanced 9-1-1 systems. This technology will provide dispatchers with some information, before the caller even speaks. The name, address and phone number of the caller is provided on the computer screen when calls originate from a business or residence. Cell phone calls only provide a name and phone number, and the approximate location of the caller.

If you accidentally call 9-1-1 or if you are playing a prank and call 9-1-1, the dispatcher will call the number back to assure it is not an actual emergency. If you don’t answer this call, expect the police to be knocking on your door within minutes. All 9-1-1 calls are taken very seriously.

The non-emergency number for Farmington Hills Police Dept. is 248-871-2600; for the Fire Department, it's 248-871-2800.


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