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What to Expect When Calling 911

When to call 911 emergency line vs 503-629-0111 non-emergency line

A general rule to follow is to call 911 when you have an EMERGENCY where police, fire or medical help is needed immediately.  Generally, you would call 911 for crimes that are occurring now, just occurred or where a criminal can be readily apprehended, any size fire or a medical condition that is life threatening or a risk to long term health.  If you are unsure if your situation meets the 911 emergency criteria, go ahead and call 911.  For all other non-life threatening or non -urgent calls use the non-emergency number at 503-629-0111.

Both the 911 and Non-Emergency 503-629-0111 numbers are available 24 hours a day, and 365 days of the year.

If you call in error, do not hang up, remain on the line and let the call taker know you made a mistake.   If you hang up the call taker will attempt to call you back.  If you cannot be reached and a location is known, they will send police help to determine if there is an emergency or not.  We address incomplete 911 calls this way to that callers who might be unable to communicate can receive help.


Do your best to remain calm and speak clearly while providing the dispatcher with essential information to aid in determining the right response to help you with your specific situation.  They will need to know the following:

  • The address of the problem (if you do not have an address, the name of the location, landmarks or cross streets can be helpful).

  • What is happening?  This is a general report, you will have a chance to give all the details and history to the responder who contacts you.  You will be guided by the call taker with questions to fill in the details needed to help the call taker determine the right response to your situation.

    • It may feel like the call taker is asking questions and not getting you the help that you need.   That is not the case, because of the computer system we use the call taker is sending the call to a dispatcher who is in direct communication with the public safety responders being sent to aid you.  The call taking and dispatching of units is simultaneous in emergency calls.

  • You will be asked for your name and phone number and possibly your address depending on the type of call.  You need to know that the calls are recorded and subject to public records rules and laws.  You may request to remain anonymous, however all calls are recorded as required by law and certain types of information are retained by the computer system (e.g. location information).

NOTE: You may hear silence during your call or only the sounds of typing on a keyboard.  Your call taker may be looking up information or adding the important details you have shared, so that the dispatcher can relay them to your public safety responders.  You may have a call taker tell you to hold on while they talk on the radio.  In many cases our call takers are also the dispatcher and may be speaking to the public safety responder on the radio while also talking to you at the same time.  Be assured that your call is important and is being handled appropriately.

If it is safe, and you are asked to stay on the line it is because you may be able to give important updates to the call taker who can then relay the information to the public safety responder.

Who helps you at the 911 center

Call taker:  the person who answers the phone, takes your information and forwards it to a dispatcher.  The call taker may also provide you instruction when necessary.

Dispatcher:  the person who has radio communication to relay information about your situation to the first responders (police, fire and ambulance) that will be sent or asked to call you, to help you with your situation.