911 Calls: Getting Your Reps In

| September 7, 2016 | 2 Comments

I’ve had the benefit of practicing “post-shooting procedures” in multiple live-fire and force on force classes with different instructors. I am grateful for Erik Pakieser from QSI, John Farnam from DTI, and Michael Anderson from Shoot the Gun for their guidance and opportunity to “call” 911 before I ever had to do so in real life.

The post-shooting / post-contact procedure usually entails:

  • Dealing with any immediate bystanders
  • Scene security (or leaving the area if it is not secure / unsafe)
  • Evaluating yourself or your “group” for damage
  • Contacting 911
  • Interacting with responding officers
  • Invoking right to remain silent and/or right to an attorney

Last week I had to call 911. Fortunately it was not in a self-defense context, but I was able to practice some aspects of the post-contact procedure. Even knowing what to do/say ahead of time, it was still stressful talking with a 911 operator.

The situation

It was approximately 4PM on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. I had just turned left onto a very busy road. I saw a man crossing the road.

This was not unusual. The intersections are far apart on this road due to the speed limit (50MPH posted limit, average cruise speed is 60+).

What was unusual is that he walked to the median, then turned around, stumbled back into the street, and sort of waited. He had a partially consumed 40oz bottle in his hand.

I slowed and checked behind me to make sure I wouldn’t be rear-ended. He wobbled in front of me before waving me on. I changed lanes.


Dash cam footage

I proceeded to leave the area (scene safety). I made sure that I was paying attention to the other cars on the road, especially those behind me. A lady behind me was on her phone and looking around. She drifted slightly in her lane. Was she also calling 911, or talking to someone else?

Once I was clear of the area, I used the touch screen in my truck to dial 911. This was a four step process, and required more attention than I wanted to give. I turned off of the road to complete the dialing process (scene safety).

I noted the nearest cross street while the phone rang. I anticipated the 911 operator asking where the emergency was first, so I wanted to be ready.

The Call

While some details differ, all of my instructors have advocated the following when talking with 911 operators:

  1. state where you are.
  2. state the situation without embellishment. Be as brief and high level as possible.
  3. describe the people involved with as much accurate detail as possible. If you aren’t sure, don’t guess.
  4. give your name and contact information if asked.
  5. in the event of a violent encounter, describe yourself and if you are armed to increase your chances of safe police contact.
  6. disconnect the call if you need your attention elsewhere, or if the 911 operator asks questions you are uncomfortable answering without a lawyer.

The call connected. Instead of a human I heard a recording:

We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls. Please stay on the line. Do not hang up.

Less than 30 seconds later a lady answered.

911, is this a life or death emergency?

This was not the question I expected. I blinked repeatedly, trying to figure out how to reply succinctly and honestly.

“Uhhh, it could be if someone doesn’t get this drunk guy out of [the road].”

Where is the location of your emergency?

OK, now we’re back on track.

  • I told the operator what road the man was on, and what the nearest cross-street was.
  • I was able to give a last known direction of travel thanks to the compass in my truck.
  • I described the man as accurately as I could without guessing: white male, shorts, blue shirt, red baseball cap.
  • The 911 operator stated another person had called it in, and that my description matched. She stated officers were on their way.
  • She asked for my name and phone number, which I gave.
  • I started driving again, back towards where I last saw the drunk man. The man made it to the other side of the street, but was wandering into traffic again. I updated the operator on his current location, heading, and behavior. She told me officers were nearby.
  • I saw a cruiser turn towards the man and turn its lights on. Two officers got out and approached the drunken man. I informed the operator, and then we hung up.

Lessons Learned

I was glad that at least one other person called it in, and that their description matched mine. It is harder to recall someone’s description than you might think. Practice is important.

It’s good to have a script / pattern, but be ready to improvise. I did not expect the “is this a life or death?” question. I think that’s a weird thing to ask a layperson to evaluate, but I also guess it helps triage the real emergencies from the bullshit ones.

I will keep my current “tape loop.”


I was glad to get some 911 practice.

Was it critical to call 911 for a drunk walking on a busy road with traffic moving at highway speeds? I think so. I didn’t want him to get hurt, but more importantly, I didn’t want an innocent person to hit him and have to deal with that experience.

My instructors have told me if it is important enough to get involved, it’s important enough to call 911 afterwards. The operator and police dispatcher can make their own judgment call on what to do.

I’m not suggesting you call 911 for every little thing that’s wrong, but it is also important to practice. I think I did pretty well, thanks to the coaching from my three instructors and the practice I received during training.

About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

2 Comments on "911 Calls: Getting Your Reps In"

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  1. Chris says:

    Nice write up. This is the kind of thing people should get training in when they go for a ccw class but often don’t. You’re point about having a script is spot on with what both Massas Ayoob and Andrew Branca talk about in there excellent books on the legal aspects of self defense: Deadly Force and The Law of Self Defense respectively. I also think your account of being thrown for a loop by the “is this a life or death” question is useful to think about before hand.
    The topics you bring up are truly valuable to the every day civilian defended. As usual thanks for this blog.

  2. Nice work, Shepherd! Thanks for the shout-out.

    Getting thrown off script is to be expected; try as we might, we can’t predict what 911 or responding officers will say first. Your success is you got back on the tape loop as soon as you could, and used it perfectly.

    Well done!

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