Advise Me

911 Basics: What to Do Before and After You Call

If you must call 911, you may feel panicked or anxious, and you may not know exactly what to do. After all, you, or someone near you is having a health emergency and needs medical attention right away. Your emotions may be strong. Trying to keep yourself calm can help you manage the situation as well as possible.

Melissa Zukowski, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, said that before you call 911, take a deep breath to help calm yourself. “Emergencies can be very stressful, but when you stay calm, the 911 operator can better help you and the person having the emergency,” she said.

Dr. Zukowski shared these tips that can help you get the care you need as quickly as possible.

Provide your location and make sure access is clear

Once you call, make sure you can share your address. If you’re someplace where you don’t know the address, give the 911 operator the closest cross streets. You should be able to find your address quickly on Google maps. Your location should show up as a blue circle, and the street name and number appear if you zoom in.

Be sure doors are unlocked so the EMS team can get inside. If you feel you can leave the side of the person having the emergency, or there’s someone else there who can help, you can go outside to flag down the ambulance as it arrives.

If you have pets, put them in crates or behind closed doors. Otherwise, they could get underfoot when help arrives or escape when the door is open. And if you need to, clear a path so the paramedics can reach the person easily.

If possible, get a list of the medications the person having the emergency is taking, or gather the pill bottles so the EMS team and emergency department staff can review them.

Listen carefully to the 911 operator

The 911 operator will almost always stay on the phone with you. “Let the operator do the talking and guiding and listen carefully to what they say. They will guide you through the steps you need to help the person. Try to stay calm and do what they instruct until help arrives to take over,” Dr. Zukowski said.

The 911 operator has an algorithm of questions to ask you. This assists them to help you take the best care of someone until paramedics arrive. “Answer their questions as quickly and calmly as possible,” Dr. Zukowski said. “Sharing information with the 911 operator is critical to success.”

Be honest with the 911 operator. Sometimes, people don’t disclose things like alcohol or drug use. But providing all the necessary information is crucial for getting appropriate care.

Step aside and give the EMS team space to work

When the paramedics arrive, they will probably ask you to step aside. It’s crucial for you and any other people on the scene to stand back and let them do their work. “You do not want to get in the way of them taking care of the person,” Dr. Zukowski said. “They need to move quickly with interventions and transport. They can tell you where they are transporting the person so you can join them at the emergency department.

Prepare for the next emergency

If you’ve had to handle a medical emergency, it may have made you realize you could do some things differently. Here are some steps you may want to take.

  • Teach children how to call 911. Even if they know the numbers, they should understand how to call 911 from a cell phone that isn’t their own — most phones have a way to make emergency calls from the lock screen. They should also know how to call from a landline — children don’t always know to listen for the dial tone before initiating a call.
  • Have your address posted someplace where it’s easy to find, such as on your refrigerator at home or in a break room at work. That way, someone who doesn’t live or work there can find the location information.
  • Learn CPR. “This can be lifesaving in an emergency. The more you know about how to help in an emergency, the better the outcome,” Dr. Zukowski said.

The bottom line

It can be stressful and scary when you need to call 911. Doing your best to stay calm can help the 911 operator and paramedics provide their medical attention. If you would like to connect with a health care provider who can help you reduce your odds of facing a medical emergency, reach out to Banner Health. 

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