Emergency Communications Frequently Asked Questions

What is 9-1-1?

9-1-1 is the number most people in the US and some International countries call to receive help in a police, fire, or medical emergency.   A 9-1-1 call goes over dedicated phone networks to the appropriate 9-1-1 answering point (PSAP) for the caller’s location, and trained personnel then send the emergency services, if needed.

When should you call 911?

9-1-1 is only to be used in emergencies.  An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police, fire, or rescue.  9-1-1 is for emergencies, potential emergencies, or when an emergency is imminent.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there a danger to life or property?
  • Is there a serious medical emergency (chest pains, seizures, bleeding, etc?)
  • Is there any type of fire (building, vehicle, brush, etc?)
  • Is there any crime in-progress (robbery, burglary, prowler, fights, etc?)
  • Are there any other life threatening situations (traffic accident with injuries, stuck in high water, etc?)
  • Is the caller or someone else the victim of a crime?

If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency, you should call 9-1-1.  It is better to be safe and let the 9-1-1 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

Please, do not call 9-1-1 to report that electricity or other utilities are off; to notify authorities of traffic jams; to inquire about government services; or to learn general information.

How can YOU help us?

When reporting an emergency:

  • Remain calm
  • Speak clearly
  • Listen to instructions
  • Answer all questions
  • DO NOT hang up until instructed to do so by the call taker

The person answering 9-1-1 is a trained dispatcher.  They have been trained as to what questions to ask.  Be prepared to follow the dispatcher’s line of questioning (e.g. WHEN did the incident occur, WHAT is happening, WHERE the situation is occurring, WHO is involved, is a WEAPON involved, what INJURIES have been sustained, etc.).

Where do I call for non-emergency assistance?

The Emergency Communications Center has several non-emergency telephone lines that are accessible to the public through one central number.  For all non-emergency situations, please call 540.459.6101.  Examples of calls that should be placed to the non-emergency number are:

  • Traffic accidents that do not involve injuries or hazards
  • Loud music or barking dogs
  • Late reported incidents such as theft with no suspect information
  • Requests for information

Why do dispatchers ask so many questions?

Dispatchers ask for pertinent information first – address, type of call, name of caller or those involved, and your call back number.  Once the initial information is obtained, additional questions may be asked depending on the type of call.  The questioning will not slow down the dispatching of the appropriate assistance.  In emergency cases, this information is relayed immediately to field units so they may begin responding to the incident, while the dispatcher remains on the phone to obtain further details that are also relayed to the responding units as it is gathered, in real time.  The dispatcher will further assist callers by giving instructions to callers on how to administer life saving techniques, such as CPR, during medical emergencies; to take steps to promote the personal safety of the caller, the victim and responding Police, Fire, or EMS personnel, and to engage in those actions that preserve evidence to aid in the apprehension of suspects.

What should I do if I call 911 by mistake?

If you call 9-1-1 by mistake, DO NOT HANG UP.  Stay on the line and tell the dispatcher that everything is all right.  If a caller to 911 hangs up without stating the problem, the caller must be contacted in order to ensure that no actual emergency exits.  This may involve the dispatching of a law enforcement officer to your home or place of business in order to ensure that a problem does not exist.  One common misconception that citizens have about dialing 911 by mistake is they will somehow get into trouble.  This is not true!

What about 9-1-1 prank calls?

It is a prank call when someone calls 9-1-1 for a joke, or calls 9-1-1 and hangs up.  Prank calls not only waste time and money, but can also be dangerous.  If 9-1-1 lines or call takers are busy with prank calls, someone with a real emergency may not be able to get the help they need.  It is against the law to make prank 9-1-1 calls.

Whom does the center dispatch?

The Emergency Communications Center dispatches for all public safety resources in Shenandoah County – the Sheriff’s Office, all local Police Departments, Animal Control, and all Fire and EMS stations (career and volunteer.)  These departments serve a population of approximately 43,000 over a 509 square-mile area.

How many calls does the center receive?

In FY 2018, the Emergency Communications Center handled 146,853 total telephone calls.  109,677 calls for service were handled by Fire, Law Enforcement, Animal Control, and EMS personnel.

Can the center communicate with the speech/hearing-impaired?

Yes.  The Emergency Communications Center is equipped with Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) enabling communications with the speech/hearing-impaired callers.

If a caller uses a TTY/TDD, the caller should:

  • Stay calm, place the phone receiver in the TTY, dial 9-1-1.
  • After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times. This may help shorten the time necessary to respond to the call.
  • Give the call taker time to connect their TTY. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The 9-1-1 call taker should answer and type “GA” for Go Ahead.
  • Tell what is needed-police, fire department, or ambulance. Give your name, phone number and the address where help is needed
  • Stay on the telephone if it is safe. Answer the call taker’s questions.

If a deaf or hearing/speech impaired caller does not have a TTY/TDD, the caller should call 9-1-1 and do not hang up.  Not hanging up leaves the line open.  With most 9-1-1 calls, the caller’s address is displayed on the call taker’s screen and help will be sent.

Can I call 9-1-1 from a pay phone?

Yes.  Local telephone service providers do not charge for calling 9-1-1 from all coin phones.

Can I call 9-1-1 from a cellular phone?

Yes.  When 9-1-1 is dialed on a cellular phone, calls will be routed to the Emergency Communication Center based on cellular tower site location.  Depending on the type of call, geographical area and other factors, your call may need to be transferred to another jurisdiction or the Virginia State Police.  Even if you are out of the area, your call when be routed to the closest 9-1-1 center to your current location.

I speak a foreign language.  Can the 9-1-1 Center communicate with me during an emergency?

Yes.  When necessary, a 9-1-1 call taker can add an interpreter from an outside service to the line.  The Emergency Communications Center provides a service made available from CyraCom.  This service provides us over-the-phone interpretation of more than 140 languages, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  A non-English speaking caller may hear a short conversation in English and some clicking sounds as the interpreter is added to the line.

I am thinking of discontinuing my traditional phone service.

Many people are making the decision to disconnect their home phone and move their home telephone to their cell phone.  If you decide to use only a cell phone, keep these important tips in mind:

  • A typical home or work phone gives 9-1-1 call takers an exact location – your physical address.
  • Cell phones with location technology only provide an approximate location.
  • If you have an outdated phone, the call taker may not receive any location information.
  • Choose your phone wisely. Your life could depend on it.

What if I have an Internet/Digital Phones?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) also called Internet, digital, broadband, or cable phone service, is a rapidly growing alternative to traditional phone service.  Low prices, more features, and the ability to choose a phone number from nearly anywhere in the country primarily fuel its popularity.

VoIP may look and appear to work like a traditional phone, but it connects to the internet, not a telephone line.  There are several critical factors to consider regarding the impact of this service on your ability to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.  It is important for consumers to understand the potential limitations the technology has with respect to accessing 9-1-1.

  • Check your service provider’s website for emergency calling features.
  • When calling 9-1-1, give your location, and call back number.
  • Call back if you get disconnected.
  • If the power is out, your VoIP service may not work. Consider purchasing a backup power supply.
  • If you travel with your VoIP adapter, your call may not reach the correct 9-1-1 center.  If you need 9-1-1 service, use another phone.
  • Be sure to keep your registered location current with your VoIP provider.
  • Inform children, babysitters, and visitors about your VoIP service.
  • Post your address and call back phone number near your phone.
  • Consider keeping a land line phone for accessing 9-1-1 emergency services.
  • Burglar alarms, fax machines, satellite TV, and DVRs often rely on analog modems.  Check with your VoIP provider to determine if their service supports analog modems.