Preparedness Month: Phone Numbers

September is National Preparedness Month!

Each week this month we will be providing tips on how to keep you and your family safe in an emergency.


This Week: Know Important Phone Numbers

While many people are aware of how to prepare your home for an emergency (with an emergency kit, for example), not many people know who to contact and when to contact someone in the event of a disaster. Though you should always call 9-1-1 in the case of a life-threatening situation, in the event of a natural disaster or large-scale emergency, 9-1-1 must be left open in order to help those facing an emergency police, fire, or medical situation. For wellness, information, and directory assistance, other hotlines are there to assist you.

Here’s the 4-1-1 on who to call for information or help in an emergency:

9-1-1 for Life-Threatening Emergencies:

If you, or someone you can see, is in a life-threatening police, fire, or medical situation, you should call 9-1-1 immediately. You will need to know the location, your phone number, the type of emergency, and the name of those involved (unless you are calling on the behalf of a stranger or witnessed crime). If you witness suspicious behavior, stealing, or attempted break-ins, call 9-1-1 and describe the situation to the operator. If you are unsure if the event you are reporting is an emergency, call 9-1-1 and describe the situation to the operator, who can help determine whether or not the event is an emergency. If you accidentally call 9-1-1, do not hang up instead, explain the situation. If you hang up, the operator will have to follow-up to ensure that you are not in an emergency.

In the case of a natural disaster or wide-spread emergency, limit your calls to 9-1-1 unless the situation is life threatening. You should NEVER call 9-1-1 as a joke, for information, or to see if the line is working.

5-1-1 for Travel and Road Information:

Call 5-1-1 to receive traffic, weather, and maintenance alerts. You can also receive information about I-90 and I-5 express lanes, Washington State Ferry information, including wait times and schedules, as well as traffic and road incidents. 5-1-1 also gives you access to statewide emergency messages and AMBER alerts.

4-1-1 for the Directory:

To receive telephone directory assistance, call 4-1-1. Telephone charges may vary depending on your service provider. To access directory assistance, you will need city, state, street address, and name/business information.

2-1-1 for Human Services:

To access human services, call 2-1-1. The phone operators at 2-1-1 can help you connect with basic human services—including financial, housing, health, and food assistance–, physical and mental health resources, employment support, support for older Americans and persons with disabilities, child, youth, and family, support, and volunteer opportunities and donations. Following an emergency, individuals wishing to donate to relief efforts can contact 2-1-1 to help support survivors.

While 2-1-1 can connect people to important health and wellness resources, it is NOT a replacement for emergency support. If you are worried about the immediate safety of someone you know, please call 9-1-1 and they can perform a welfare check. For more information about welfare checks, please visit this page: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/altsa/home-and-community-services/self-neglect

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. For deaf and hard of hearing individuals, please contact 1-800-799-4889.

If you think that someone you know is in danger of harming themselves, please contact 9-1-1.

For more information about suicide prevention:

Additional Resources:

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Annika Vaughn is a current Political Science undergraduate at the University of Washington. Despite being a second-generation Olympian, her interest in government work began at the age of 15 when she was a Legislative Page for the Washington State House of Representatives. After completing her undergrad, Annika plans on entering the workforce before returning to school for her master’s degree.
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