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When to Call 911 and When Not to Call 911


About the 911 system

The three-digit telephone number 9-1-1 is the Universal Emergency Number for people throughout the United States to request emergency assistance. It gives the public fast and easy access to police, fire, and medical care. 

While you may know that you should call 911 in an emergency, you may not be sure of when you should not call 911. Too often, requests to 911 do not involve a true emergency, which overloads the 911 system with non-emergency calls. Below is some information to help you.  

When to call 911

  • Breathing difficulty/shortness of breath/breathing has stopped
  • Choking (cannot talk or breathe)
  • Constant chest pain - in adults (lasting longer than two minutes)
  • Uncontrolled bleeding or large blood loss
  • Gunshot wounds, stabbings
  • Vomiting blood
  • Sudden fainting/loss of consciousness
  • Severe allergic reaction (difficulty breathing or unresponsive)
  • Broken bones
  • Severe injuries from: traffic accidents, head injury, significant falls, physical entrapment

When NOT to call 911

  • Minor illness or injury not requiring immediate assistance, such a cold, flu, chronic pain, broken fingers or toes, or minor cuts. Instead, call your doctor or go to an Urgent Care Center. 
  • Emotional upsets. Instead, call 988 or 716-834-3131.
  • Routine transportation to medical offices, clinics, or hospitals. Instead, call a ride share service or a friend for a ride.  Many senior centers also offer rides to seniors. 
  • Transportation home after a night out.  Instead, call a ride service or friend to pick you up. 

Tips for calling 911

  1. State the location where responders are needed.
  2. Briefly describe the incident.
  3. Remain calm.
  4. Do what the 911 call taker advises.
  5. Do not hang up until instructed.

If you have any questions about these guidelines, call 911 for advice.

Enhanced 911 services

Central Police Services Communications Division personnel staff the Enhanced 911 (E911) Center at the Erie County Public Safety Campus located in Buffalo. Call takers process approximately 900,000 emergency and non-emergency calls per year.

More about E911

Facts about 911  and how you can comment on your experience calling 911