National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is April 9-15, 2023. It recognizes the dispatchers and operators who have helped save thousands of lives since 911 began in 1968. Pinellas County 911, which is under the jurisdiction of the county, and our own PCSO dispatchers who communicate directly with our deputies work side-by-side in the Regional 911 Center in Largo. It can be hard to stay calm and think clearly when calling 911, but knowing some facts about placing a 911 call will help public safety telecommunicators get you the assistance you need.
When to call 911: Call 911 when you need immediate assistance from law enforcement, the fire department, or an ambulance. You must make the decision about what constitutes an emergency. If you see or experience a crime you should call 911 most of the time, but there are a few minor situations where you could call a law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number. In general, if the event is occurring right now you should call 911. If someone is on your property committing vandalism you would call 911. However if you wake up to discover that your house has been egged or tagged with graffiti, you should call the non-emergency number. In the latter case a deputy will still come take a report and use the same investigative skills to find the perpetrator, but they won’t have to drive to your residence immediately or at a high rate of speed as they might if the perpetrator was still on your property. They can prioritize crimes that are in-progress.
Likewise, if you are in a major car accident that involves injuries or road blockage, or a hit and run, call 911. If you get in a minor fender-bender though, move the vehicles off the road and depending on the parties’ preference either exchange information without a report or call the non-emergency number.
Don’t call 911 for general information. If you have questions about laws, policy, our agency, or anything that is not an emergency you can reach the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) at our non-emergency number, 727-582-6200.
For medical emergencies, something like chest pains or severe bleeding would definitely need a 911 call. You should call 911 for any fire, even if you’ve managed to put it out yourself. Fire department personnel can make sure that the fire is completely extinguished.
If you think your situation may be an emergency, don’t hesitate to call even if you aren’t completely sure. Some people are afraid to call, or embarrassed, or think they might be wasting a deputy’s time with their problem. When in doubt, call 911. Operators can help determine the level of the emergency and the appropriate response.
What to tell them: The 911 operator has a list of questions to determine the nature of your emergency. While you may want to blurt out a story, it is best to let the operator ask questions to ensure that information is relayed where it needs to go in the most efficient fashion. Let them know succinctly whether it is a medical emergency, a fire, or a crime, and then answer their questions about your location and call-back number. After that you will be able to provide more details about the emergency. The 911 operator will prompt you to help find out what they need.
911 operators are also trained to provide detailed instructions to callers in some situations. For example, if you call about someone having a heart attack they can talk you through CPR or the use of an AED.
If you live in an area serviced by the PCSO and call to report a crime, you may be transferred to a PCSO dispatcher who will communicate both with you and responding deputies to give them the most complete and updated information. Stay calm and answer all the questions they ask you. Deputies now have access to a live 911 feed on their in-car laptops so they can hear what a caller is reporting in real time. A responding deputy can hear vital information such as a suspect’s description or direction of travel as soon as the caller reports it. If they are away from their vehicle, a dispatcher relays the information as quickly as possible.
If you call 911 by accident: Kids play with phones, fingers slip, and people make mistakes. If you accidentally call 911, don’t hang up. Many people panic or get embarrassed and think if they hang up quickly it will be ignored, but no 911 calls are ever ignored. Deputies are dispatched every day to 911 hang-ups that aren’t emergencies at all, just accidental dials, and this is a waste of resources that could be better used for saving lives. Instead of hanging up, calmly explain that everything is okay and you called inadvertently. If you hang up, a law enforcement officer will be dispatched to check on you.
Calling 911 in an emergency can be stressful but public safety telecommunicators are trained to help keep you calm and talk you through the process. Understanding when to call 911 and what to do once you reach them will help make the process easier.
Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911ADA info