When To Call 9-1-1

Fire! A car crash and people are hurt! Someone is breaking into my house!

What to do? Call 9-1-1, of course – and call right away. But sometimes we are not sure what to do – should I call for emergency help? 

The general rule: dial 9-1-1 any time there is a threat to life or property. A 9-1-1 operator can even tell you whether your problem needs an emergency response, so when in doubt, call…but it helps to know when to call.

When to call 9-1-1

An emergency is any situation that requires immediate help from the police, fire department or ambulance, such as:

  • A fire
  • A crime in progress
  • A car crash, especially if someone is injured
  • A medical emergency, especially one that requires immediate medical attention​

If you are not sure whether the situation is a true emergency, officials recommend calling 9-1-1 and letting the call-taker determine whether you need emergency help.​​​​​​

Ver en español (View in Spanish) | Xem bằng tiếng Việt (View in Vietnamese)


NEVER call 9-1-1 as a joke or just to see what might happen. When the emergency dispatcher has to take the time to talk to people who do not have a real emergency, other people who call and do need help right away might have to wait.


9-1-1 By the Numbers


  • In Santa Clara County, over 10,000 emergency medical calls to 9-1-1 are processed every month. 
  • Around 35% of those calls are “cancellation calls” - meaning the police, fire, or emergency medical responders were not needed.  
  • In 2017, the Santa Clara County Emergency Medical Services System responded to 131,878 calls to 9-1-1. 
  • Only 85,880 of those calls resulted in a transport to a hospital.

What Happens When You Call 9-1-1 for a Medical Emergency in Santa Clara County

“We hope that through education, our community will have a better understanding of the 9-1-1 emergency medical services system, and when to call upon us for help.” – Jackie Lowther, Director, County of Santa Clara Emergency Medical Services Agency

All Content Copyright © 2024, County of Santa Clara, CA