This biweekly column is written and sponsored by the Arlington Office of Emergency Management.
9-1-1, Where is your emergency? If your answer to this question is “this isn’t an emergency,” then you’ve dialed the wrong number. Arlington County has a non-emergency number that’s also answered 24/7 by call-takers in the Emergency Communications Center. Still not sure when it’s appropriate to use the non-emergency number?
- Is the situation life threatening? Is something on fire? Is someone bleeding? Not breathing? Is there a weapon? If you find yourself in a situation where someone needs medical attention, there’s any type of fire, smoke, smell or someone has a weapon or is threatening you, you should absolutely call 9-1-1. For any situation when there is an immediate threat to life, health or property, do not wait — call 9-1-1 immediately.
PRO TIP: The most important piece of information you can give is your location. Give this information first. If you don’t know
the exact address, pay special attention to your surroundings. Just saying, “I’m at the 7-11,” isn’t helpful (there are seventeen 7-11’s in Arlington). But if you say, “I’m at the 7-11 near Columbia Pike and South George Mason,” then dispatchers can figure out where you are. Keep in mind, your cell phone will not automatically tell dispatchers where you are.
- Did the event happen more than 30 minutes ago? The possibilities of when the non-emergency number should be used are really limitless, but one of the biggest factors is time. If the danger still exists, call 9-1-1. However, if there has been an incident where you needed the police but the danger has already passed, then the non-emergency number would be appropriate. Some examples: if you saw a strange car in your neighborhood an hour ago, if you left your wallet in a cab last night, if you just noticed something was stolen from your car in the last week — then call the non-emergency line!
Other times it’s appropriate to use the non-emergency number is for nuisance calls. A barking dog or an illegally parked car are things that are annoying (and violate certain ordinances), but are not life threatening. If you cannot find your car, that is not necessarily an emergency. If you saw someone physically steal it then yes, call 9-1-1 immediately. Otherwise you can find out if it’s been towed or file a stolen vehicle report through the non-emergency number.
PRO TIP: The Arlington County Police has a great system in place for making online reports. Once the report is submitted, you will automatically receive a temporary case number. You will then receive an e-mail from an officer within 48 hours to follow up. If further information is needed, the Officer will ask for it via e-mail.
PRO TIP: Arlington County also has an online tool for reporting things like littering, traffic signal issues and damaged signs.
- See Something, Say Something. The community plays a critical part as our eyes and ears for suspicious activity. However, just because something is suspicious doesn’t mean it’s an emergency. If you see someone taking unusual pictures or videos, or behaving strangely, call the non-emergency number. If what you are seeing feels like it might be an imminent danger, call 9-1-1.
- Just because you call the non-emergency line, doesn’t mean it’s not important. A call for a non-emergency situation may take a little longer than an emergency. However, this does not mean your incident isn’t important, or won’t be handled properly. Just have a question for a call-taker? Call the non-emergency number.
PRO TIP: Arlington County also has Text-to-9-1-1 capabilities for times when it’s an emergency, but you are unable to speak on the phone.