ISSUE: How Does the City’s 911 Service Work?

FACT: The City’s 911  telecommunicators ensure the necessary number and type of first responders are dispatched to a scene by collecting accurate information, while guiding callers through an emergency until help can arrive.

911 CALL CENTERAll day and every day, our police, fire and emergency medical professionals provide services for our 450,000 residents,  and the millions of visitors we get annually. Before any criminal is arrested, fire extinguished or medical aid rendered, it usually starts with a phone call.

In 2017, the City’s emergency telecommunicators received more than 543,000 calls, or about 1,500 per day. It’s their responsibility to accurately collect information from callers, enter it into their tracking system, and ensure it’s given to the appropriate dispatcher to deploy the necessary first responders: police, fire and/or EMS. The average time it takes: three minutes and 15 seconds. They do all this while they assist callers until help arrives. Things like a cardiac event, a fire, car accident or criminal activity.

So, how do these consummate professionals keep a cool head while guiding callers through an emergency? In a word: training. Employees with 911, which falls under the Emergency Communications & Citizen Services department (ECCS), begin with a 10-week academy. It includes a combination of classroom study and hands-on training in a simulated setting. After the academy, on-the-job training continues for another 12 months to ensure graduates are able to meet the strict guidelines and testing scores to properly fulfill their duties.

Chief among those duties is information collection. To verify the details, they’ll ask the same questions, usually more than once. Understandably, this  can be frustrating for callers, but getting accurate information is so critical in emergency situations,  the telecommunicators verify it to  ensure the right help will arrive where it’s needed and with the right information so they can act quickly.  

For example, if it’s a car accident, in addition to the location, they’ll want to know how many vehicles were involved, any possible injuries and their severity, if there are downed power lines, or if there’s gas or fluids leaking from any of the vehicles. This is to ensure that the necessary equipment and number of personnel are sent to the scene, and to provide these details to the first responders. It’s also to provide the first responders with information to keep them safe. 

Some of our residents have asked “why do I immediately get put on hold when I call 911?” This typically happens when a large number of calls are placed to 911 in a short span of time. In fact, any time there’s a significant incident with a high number of witnesses, there will be a spike in call volume. A car accident at a major intersection can easily result in 30 or more calls placed at once, in addition to the regular call volume.

Unfortunately, accidental calls to 911 are an issue that also tie up phone lines. Nationwide, they account for about a third of all 911 calls. If you accidentally call emergency services, it’s important to stay on the phone and explain it was an accident. If not, the 911 center will attempt to call you back and verify that you’re safe, which ties up time and resources. 

It’s also important to remember that 911 should be used for genuine emergencies – ones where life or property are in imminent danger. If you need the assistance of a first responder, and it’s not a life or death emergency, call 385-5000 instead. 

For more information about the City’s 911 operations, please visit If you’re interested in a career with ECCS, click on the VB911 careers tab on the same page, or visit

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