You’re out and about and a car crash happens right in front of you. You quickly dial 911 on your cellphone to report it. But was that the right thing to do?

But here are a few tips to ensure the right emergency agency is contacted and you give the right information.

Cindy Jones, a communications supervisor with Santa Rosa police, recommends that you program into your cellphone the seven-digit emergency number for your local police and fire departments. The numbers are listed in the phone book.

The reason for this is that if, let’s say, you’re out  in Santa Rosa and see a crash. If you’re near Highway 101, your 911 call may be picked up by a cell tower and routed to the CHP, which then will transfer you to Santa Rosa. That could delay a response from Santa Rosa police or Fire Department as you explain to the CHP dispatcher what’s going on. If you’re at home or at work, dial 911 from your home or work phone.

By calling your programmed emergency number, your call goes straight to the police or fire and when you start telling about a crash at “Fourth and Mendo,” the dispatcher will know what city you’re talking about.

Jones said you should make your emergency call specific and precise: What the emergency is, where it is, is anyone injured or possibly injured. She said sometimes callers ramble and dispatchers have to interrupt to get the basic facts so that they know whether to send police officers, firefighters and/or ambulance crews and where.

“People think that dispatchers are rude and uncaring” when they interrupt, “but we have to get the details. Getting them sometimes is difficult,” she said.

If you think someone might have been injured, be sure to include that. When two cars collided May 3 in front of The Press Democrat in downtown Santa Rosa, airbags in one car deployed and the driver didn’t get out. But some callers apparently didn’t say anything about a possible injury and an ambulance and firetrucks didn’t arrive for about 25 minutes.

For dispatchers, a key fact to find out is where the emergency is happening. While calls from home phones automatically provide their location, dispatchers still need to know where the emergency is — inside the home, in the backyard, down the street, etc.

Jones said calling 911 or other emergency number is only for emergencies.

The fact that your neighbor’s dog is barking is not an emergency unless the dog is barking because a stranger is climbing into your neighbor’s window, she said.


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