When to call 911?

City of Great Falls Police Department


July 6, 2017


911 Guidelines

GREAT FALLS, Montana – On July 6, 2017 at approximately 12:30am Great Falls and the surrounding area experienced the first of a series of small earthquakes, leading community members to call our Emergency Communications Center seeking information about the event. With so many calls to 911 our dispatchers could not answer the calls coming in from the non-emergency numbers. Several callers wanted to know the status of Holter Lake Dam, Yellowstone National Park, and even when the next quake would occur.

We encourage anyone to consider this question before calling our Emergency Communications Center (ECC): “Do I need a police officer, a firefighter, or a paramedic to respond to help me or someone else?” If the answer was “no”, then we ask community members not call 911 or even the non-emergency number. We encourage you to seek answers somewhere else.

The ECC has nine incoming 911 lines; six lines are dedicated to Great Falls non-emergency issues and three lines to Cascade County. Emergency dispatchers manage those 18 incoming phone lines and radio communications with 29 agencies. When 200+ people call in at nearly the same time, on both the 911 and non-emergency lines, the system quickly becomes overloaded. Anyone attempting to call in with a genuine emergency is not able to receive the timely response they need and deserve.

We have been asked why an “emergency alert” was not broadcast local television and radio stations. Typically, if we opt to communicate an emergency of any kind it is to direct community members to take action, such as directing an evacuation like we did for last summer’s Vineyard 2 fire. Regarding the earthquakes, if there would have been a major infrastructure malfunction, like a ruptured gas line or water plant contamination, that information would have been communicated to the community with further instructions.

Things one might consider after an earthquake or other natural event such as this are:

– Check building foundations

– Check propane/gas tanks and the integrity of their lines

– Watch for water line leaks or breaks

For more information about what to do after such an event logon to READY.GOV.

Emergency dispatchers often receive calls that are completely unrelated to emergency services:

– Wanting police officers to give them rides home or unlock their vehicles

– Needing help finding phone numbers for long lost friends

– Inquiring about the current temperature and time

– Asking for numbers to various restaurants or the Great Falls Tribune

– Wanting to know what time parades or events like the Farmer’s Market start

– Calling to ask why cable or power has gone out

– Calling 911 to pay the water bill or complaining about being charged too much for cable

– Calling 911 to report cold crimes, like a 15 year old theft, a month old auto crash, or a suspicious-looking person from a week earlier

– Calling constantly asking about traffic laws

Here are three of the most memorable calls reported by dispatchers:

– A lady asked for help getting window blinds because the sun was shining into her windows

– Someone called upset that a bar wouldn’t server her more alcohol

– A caller wanted to know what time in the morning he could purchase beer

It is important to remember the ECC is not intended as a source of general information and we cannot predict cannot predict weather events, natural disasters, or other nature events.

If we need to communicate with the community promptly, we will do it via Code Red and thru releases directly to the media and social media.

Sign up for Code Red alerts at PUBLIC.CODEREDWEB.COM/CNE/EN-US/BF5FFD503B98.