When you should – and shouldn’t – call 911.
The general rule is dial 911 any time there’s a threat to life or property – such as an accident, a crime, a fire or a medical emergency – that will require assistance from the police, fire, or ambulance.
If the situation requires assistance, but not immediately, call the nonemergency number at 668-7000.
When not to call the emergency or nonemergency number: a power outage, cable outage, landline outage, or anything else that has to do with a local utility company and will not require assistance from police, fire, or ambulance.
According to Warren County Emergency Communications director Chuck Haston, the department receives calls that should be going to utility departments and not related to police, fire, or ambulance.
“There is something we are struggling with at 911,” said Haston. “Over the last couple of years we have been completely inundated with nonemergency calls for utilities – power is out, cable is out, and landline phone is out. We get calls about trees down on private property and things like that. During the severe weather on March 21, in a two-hour period, dispatchers received 225 calls. Of those, 127 were to 911 and the rest were to our nonemergency number. About 80 percent of those calls were events that were going to be related to utilities.”
The information was presented to city Safety Committee members.
“Part of the answer to the problem is public awareness, public education, which rests on my shoulders to do,” said Haston. “By calling 911 rather than the utility, it actually takes longer. When they call us, they get upset because we say ‘OK, here’s the number to call.’ They thought we would handle it. In the process of answering that call and explaining why we don’t handle those types of calls, those lines are tied up and there’s a potential 911 event that’s not getting answered.”
Haston has also discovered that calls made to 311 are being routed to the nonemergency number 668-7000. The 311 service is a nonemergency phone number that people can call in many cities to find information about services, make complaints, or report problems like power outages, cable outages, potholes, etc. In communities where utilities or governments do not provide a 311 center, the 311 number is connected to 911 by default.
“We also discovered the 311 number is linked to our 668-7000 number,” said Haston. “The reason we didn’t know it is because it does not ring in with information that tell us it’s a 311 call. I can’t quantify how many of those calls we get coming through 911. It’s not publicized, generally speaking. My vote is that we disconnect 311 from 911 totally and call Ben Lomand to see if there’s a problem in doing that.”
Some communities do not offer a 311 service. In lieu of ending the service in Warren County, Haston questioned if city officials would be interested in expansion of 311 service into a center, if that expense is shared between it, Warren County government and local utilities.
Haston offered to generate a cost estimate, as well as contact the other entities involved, and bring that information back to the city for further consideration.
WHEN TO CALL 911
• Anytime there is a threat to life or property
• Car crash
• A medical emergency
• When the cable goes out
• You lose power
• It's a bad storm
• A tree has fallen on your property without injury