Frequently Asked Questions About Calling 9-1-1


Why was the 9-1-1 System created ?

When a person is victimized or witnesses a criminal action, the feelings of anxiety are so overwhelming that trying to look up the telephone number for the police can be an impossible task. Likewise, when a person has a sick child and does not know where to turn, or smells smoke in their home, 9-1-1 can put them in touch with people who know what to do. The universal 9-1-1 system was also created to assist children, senior citizens, and those who have problems with language. 


City, township and community logs are filled with incidents where people have helped save lives and property by dialing 9-1-1. Unfortunately, there are many instances where 9-1-1 was dialed as a joke. Remember, dialing 9-1-1 is serious and calling unnecessarily can endanger someone else's life or property when they really do need help! 

When Do I Call 9-1-1 ?

Call 9-1-1 for HELP when: 

You witness or are the victim of a crime. 
You smell smoke or see a fire. 
You witness or are involved in a serious accident. 
There is an emergency illness or suspected poisoning. 
When a child / senior citizen / handicapped person is lost, confused, frightened, or needs special assistance. 
There is any situation that is potentially dangerous and you are not sure who to call. 

What is considered an EMERGENCY ?

An event or occurrence demanding immediate action; or any condition endangering or thought to be endangering life or property. (From Police Communications Guide for Dispatchers by Alan Burton, published by Dispatch Specialists, Medford, OR, dated 1984.)

Pennsylvania defines Emergency Services in Act 78 of 1990 (Public Safety Emergency Telephone Act) as: "Those services, including fire fighting, law enforcement, ambulance and medical, provided for the protection and/or preservation of persons and/or property in circumstances of immediate and significant threat of injury or harm." 

What do I do if there's a FIRE in my home ?

Do not use your telephone to call. Stay low, get out of the house immediately and call from your neighbor's or a pay phone.

Remember that you can dial 9-1-1 from any pay phone for FREE. 

What questions will I be asked when I call 9-1-1?

The dispatcher answering your 9-1-1 call will ask you several questions to ensure that we send you the proper assistance. Remember to remain calm, speak clearly and remain on the line to answer all the dispatcher's questions. All callers are asked for the following basic information:

  1. Where do you need help - the location of the emergency.
  2. What the problem is - what is happening.
  3. Your name.
  4. The address you are calling from. 
  5. The phone number you are calling from.

Can you locate me if I can't verbally give you my location?
In most instances, Lancaster County's Enhanced 9-1-1 system automatically provides the dispatcher with your location and call back phone number. If you are calling from a landline or VOIP phone, we receive the address where your phone is installed or registered. For wireless (cell) phones, the telephone company provides us information about what cell site you connected to and, in most cases, a latitude and longitude coordinate near where you are calling from. We use this information to plot your location on a map to assist emergency services in finding you. Our ability to locate you automatically depends on many technical and natural factors. You should always stay on the phone and confirm your location with the dispatcher whenever possible.

Can I send a text message to 9-1-1?
Yes, customers of AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile can text to 911. A voice call to 911 is always the best option and text should only be used when making a voice call is impossible.

What happens next?

Take the Virtual Tour of our radio room to see how your 9-1-1 call is processed through our dispatch center.