When to call 9-1-1

A call taker and Portland City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez at a desk, taking a 911 call.
Dial 9-1-1 for situations involving an immediate threat to life or property.

Dial 9-1-1 for situations involving an immediate threat to life or property.

Below are some examples of appropriate calls for 9-1-1. You are involved in or witness to: 

  • A fight/argument happening now.
  • Gunshots being fired in the area now.
  • A home break in happening now.
  • A crash resulting in injury now.
  • A house fire happening now.
  • Chest pains happening now.
  • Difficulty breathing now.

Call 9-1-1 when there is a serious threat to life or property AND it is occurring now. We understand that some situations are emergencies to you, but we must prioritize helping those with life threatening situations first. If the situation is not happening now, the more appropriate call may be to the non-emergency number, 503-823-3333, or to our partners at 311.

If you are unsure whether your situation is an emergency, call 9-1-1 and the calltaker will determine whether to handle your call or refer you to the non-emergency number. The same calltakers answer both 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls. Calls are prioritized so that we answer 9-1-1 calls before answering non-emergency calls because we must help someone with a life safety emergency before a non-emergency issue. If a calltaker refers you to the non-emergency line, please do not continue to call 9-1-1. If you feel your call is not being handled properly, ask to speak with a supervisor.

If you accidentally dial 9-1-1, please do NOT hang up. Stay on the line and wait for a 9-1-1 calltaker to answer your call, then tell them that you misdialed. You save the calltaker time by staying on the line and telling them your call was a mistake. When you dial 9-1-1 and hang up, the calltaker is required to call you back to see if there is an emergency. They may even send a police officer to your location. By staying on the line to say you called 9-1-1 by mistake, they can move on quickly to the next 9-1-1 call.

Do not assume that if you do call 9-1-1 and hang up, that we received your call and will send help. It is possible that your call did not reach our call center.

Do not hang up and dial again. Hanging up and calling again will lose your place in line. You may now tie up two calltakers as the first may be trying to call you back while the second answers your current call.

Dial 9-1-1 if your situation meets the criteria listed above and stay on the line. Our calltakers will answer your call as quickly as possible and in the order it was received.  

Tips & Guidelines

When to call 9-1-1

9-1-1 is appropriate for situations involving an immediate threat to life or property. This includes in-progress crimes, fire-related incidents occurring now, and medical situations happening now. If your call does not fit this criterion, please call the Non-Emergency number.

Know the location of the emergency

When you dial 9-1-1, knowing your location is vital to ensure police, fire, or medical help gets to you. Learn your compass directions, such as north, south, east, and west, as well. Narrowing down a location is vital for emergency responders. We use directions to describe where an incident is located (e.g., on 122nd south of Powell) or a specific direction (e.g., the suspect ran north on 122nd from Powell). 

Stay calm and answer all questions

It is imperative that you stay calm and answer all of the calltakers questions, quickly and concisely. 9-1-1 calltakers are trained to get the most important information as quickly as possible to get help on the way to an emergency situation. Allow the calltaker to ask you all the questions they need in order to get help there in the timeliest manner. The answers you provide are very important in helping the calltaker understand the situation, then relay that information through the Dispatcher to the responding police, fire, or medical personnel.   

Limitations with cell phones and VoIP

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires wireless carriers to provide the cell phone number and the caller's location for 9-1-1 calls within 100 meters 67% of the time and within 300 meters 90% of the time. This technology only provides general location information and does not include whether you are inside a structure, which floor you are on, etc. 

VoIP phones will ring into a call center in Canada when you dial 9-1-1 if the VoIP service has not been set up for 9-1-1 service. The call center can typically transfer your call to the appropriate 9-1-1 center, but there is a delay involved. Speak with your service provider to ensure your VoIP service has been set up to ring in to your local 9-1-1 center. Don't forget to update your information if you move.

Text-to-911 is available in Multnomah County

Text-to-911 is the ability to send a "short" text message (SMS) or other kind of text message to 9-1-1 from your mobile phone or device. However, you should always make a voice call to 9-1-1 during an emergency whenever possible. Text-to-911 is a useful for members of the community who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability. Use Text-to-911 if you find yourself in a situation in which a voice call to 9-1-1 may be dangerous or impossible. But you should always make a voice call to 9-1-1 if you are able to do so safely. Remember the motto:

Call if you can, text if you can't. 

If you dial 9-1-1, do not hang up

If you accidentally or inadvertently dial 9-1-1, do NOT hang up. Stay on the line and tell the calltaker that there is no emergency and you dialed 9-1-1 by mistake. This saves the calltaker from having to call you back to find out if there is an emergency or not. In some cases, if they do not reach anyone, they may send police to check your address for an emergency. This process may take upwards of two minutes; that's two minutes someone else may have to wait on hold with a true emergency. Help prevent accident 9-1-1 calls by locking and storing your cell phone carefully.

Teach your children how to call 9-1-1

Be sure your children know what 9-1-1 is, how to dial 9-1-1 from your landline phone and cell phone, and to trust the 9-1-1 calltaker. Be sure to that at least one phone in your home is easily accessible. When your child dials 9-1-1, they need to know their own name, their parents name(s), and most importantly, their address. Tell them to answer all of the 9-1-1 calltakers questions and to stay on the phone until they are instructed to hang up. Keep an Emergency Contact List on the refrigerator. The list should contain the telephone numbers for 9-1-1 and Non-Emergency, your address including the City, parent’s names, parents cell phone numbers and work numbers, a neighbor’s name, address, and phone number, and an emergency contact such as, a family member, close friend, etc. The Emergency Contact List should be within reach of the child should they need to call 9-1-1. Ensure the child knows to never dial 9-1-1 unless there is an emergency. Never give old cell phones to children to use as toys; many de-commissioned cell phones can still dial 9-1-1.

Multi-lingual/multi-cultural speakers

9-1-1 calltakers in Multnomah County utilize a language translation service to communicate with multi-lingual/multi-cultural callers. Teach your non-English speaking family and friends to learn the English word for the language they do speak (e.g., Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, etc.). Encourage them to learn the words police, fire, and ambulance in English. 9-1-1 calltakers do not need a lot of information to get help started so even if someone speaks very little English, encourage them to call 9-1-1 when necessary. 

Power outages

Do not dial 9-1-1 when the power goes out. Contact your local power company. Be patient because everyone else without power may be calling, as well. 9-1-1 may not have any answers as to why the power is out. By calling 9-1-1, you are keeping a calltaker from helping someone else with a true emergency. 

9-1-1 is appropriate in situations where someone has a medical need based on the power being out (e.g., their home oxygen concentrator is not working) or there are live wires down on the ground, etc.