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911 for Emergency Services

Information on this page answers the following questions:

  • What is 911?
  • When should I call 911?
  • Who answers 911 calls?
  • What happens if I am put on hold?
  • What information should I provide?
  • Do I have to leave my name?
  • What if I don't speak English?

What is 911?

911 is the public's lifeline for police, fire, and medical services in the District of Columbia. The 911 number should be used to request services from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS). A 911 call is toll-free and is accessible through residential, wireless, and pay telephones throughout the District.

Who answers 911 calls?

All calls to 911 are answered by trained universal call-takers at the Office of Unified Communications.  Calls that require a fire or emergency medical response are immediately transferred to dispatchers within the call center.  For police-related emergencies, the call-taker takes the information and forwards it via computer to police dispatchers, also within the call center. The center's Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system helps with the dispatch of first responders.

What happens if I am put on hold?

The goal is to answer all 911 calls within five seconds.  If our call volume is extremely heavy when you call, you may hear a recording, and be placed on hold.   In the event that you are placed on hold, please do not hang up.  If you hang up and call back your call may be pushed farther back in the call-answering queue, resulting in delayed service.

When should I call 911?

Call 911 to request service from police, fire, or emergency medical services.  Examples of when you should call 911 include:

  • Any crime in progress or where the offender is still on the scene (or has just left the scene)
  • All serious violent crimes—homicide, robbery, sexual assault, domestic violence, assault—even if the crime is no longer in progress or the offender has left the scene
  • All fires and medical emergencies
  • Home and business intruders
  • Vehicle crashes involving personal injury, major property damage, or traffic tie-ups
  • Sighting of a criminal whom you know is wanted by the police

What information should I provide?

It is critical that you provide the police call-taker with information that is as accurate and complete as possible. Try to remain calm, and speak slowly and clearly. While the information you provide will vary with the incident, there are some critical details that will be required in almost every instance. These include:

  • A brief description of the crime  or incident
  • Time of occurrence
  • Exact location (including street and unit/apartment numbers, if applicable)
  • The extent of injuries or property damage, if any
  • Description of any suspects: gender, race, height, weight, clothing, hair color/style, facial hair, scars/marks/tattoos
  • Weapons used, including a description
  • Description of suspect vehicle: make/model, color, tag numbers (including jurisdiction), whether there are temporary tags on the vehicle
  • The direction of flight: down what street/alley; on foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle
  • Also, it is critical that you give the call-taker your phone number—especially if you are calling from a wireless phone—so that the police can call you back if they need additional information.

Do I have to leave my name?

No. Callers to 911 need not reveal their names, addresses, or phone numbers if they wish to remain anonymous when reporting a crime or incident.  Simply tell the call-taker you wish to remain anonymous, and ask the call-taker to tell the responding officers that you do not want the police to come to your home.

Even if you choose to remain anonymous, however, it is still recommended that you provide your phone number in case the police need to call you back for additional information.

What if I don't speak English?

Callers who do not speak English, or who feel more comfortable communicating in a language other than English, can still access 911 services.  There are call takers at the center who speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Amharic, Japanese, Russian, Korean, and Yoruba.  In addition, call takers have immediate access to a language translation service through which translations can be made available in more than 100 different languages and dialects.  If necessary, callers should tell the call-taker they want a language translator to help facilitate the call.

Also, 911 is completely accessible to the hearing impaired. 911 can accept TDD calls; there is no separate TDD number to call for police, fire, or emergency medical services.