Emergencies in the U.S. get handled differently than in many other countries. Whereas your tendency may be not to involve the authorities, in this country, for most emergencies, we recommend contacting them as soon as possible. The national emergency telephone number is 9-1-1.

The following examples can give you an idea of when calling 9-1-1 is appropriate:

  • A fire
  • A crime

  • A car crash involving injury, and/or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs - If no one has been injured, and if no alcohol or drugs are involved, take pictures of the damages and location, exchange personal and insurance information with the other driver and contact your insurance company.
  • A medical emergency

Be prepared to answer these questions when you place an emergency call:

  • Location of the emergency

  • Nature of the emergency

  • Any physical details or descriptions

These questions are designed to obtain important information for the appropriate emergency responders quickly. One of the benefits of calling 9-1-1 in an emergency comes from the fact that through their telephone connection with you; they can pinpoint your location almost immediately and send help based on those coordinates. Often they will keep you on the telephone long enough to determine the degree of emergency and to help you maintain calm in a stressful situation.

In the event you or someone you know has called 9-1-1 accidentally, do not hang up. Explain to the operator that the call was made in error, otherwise they could send out personnel in case a true emergency had occurred but the caller had been interrupted while trying to get help.

No matter what has happened, remain calm and do not panic. The 9-1-1 operator will determine what kind of help to send out based on the information you provide about the situation. You might receive assistance from the police, the fire department, medical personnel, or any combination of those. These emergency responders have been thoroughly trained in handling crises. Do not fear them, withhold information from them or attempt to bribe them in any way.

U.S. law enforcement, medical and emergency officials are considered public servants and will do everything they can to help you and any others affected by the circumstances. Treat them with respect and cooperate fully.

Emergency responders in the U.S. might be male or female. Regardless of their gender they will have undergone intensive training to reach their positions and are thoroughly dependable and capable. Never treat female officers or emergency personnel any differently than male personnel. In the U.S. we take great pride in allowing and encouraging both males and females the same opportunities for achievement. You could find yourself in a great deal of legal trouble if you treat any of them disrespectfully or offer to bribe them in any way.

This holds true whether you have been stopped for a traffic infraction or gotten involved in any other legal trouble while living in the U.S. Always treat law enforcement and authorities with respect. They have sworn an oath of office to maintain order, uphold the law and provide service; do not interfere with that in any way. They put their lives on the line to protect and preserve our safety; you will only find yourself in bigger trouble if you disrespect them or their responsibilities.

Alerts and Warnings

During your stay in the United States you may encounter any number of unexpected circumstances that require your immediate attention. The following list of alerts and warnings may help you interpret the level of emergency and how to respond.

Fire Alarm

Public buildings in the United States have to follow building and insurance code standards, including fire and smoke detectors and alarms to notify occupants when they detect certain levels of smoke and/or fire. Depending on the equipment, the fire alarm could just notify people in the building, or have a tie in to alert the nearest fire department.


Smoke and fire alarms make a very loud and annoying sound to ensure that no one misses the alert. If you should hear a harsh and clanging or high pitched beeping sound, you should immediately leave the building. Take your cell phone with you and dial 9-1-1 to make sure that someone has reported the emergency to local responders. Even if it turns out to be a false alarm, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The fire department will check it out and make sure when it is safe to re-enter the building.


Some fire alarms automatically trigger when they detect the presence of smoke. If you live in an apartment and you burn something in your toaster/oven, if it generates smoke, it could set off the smoke alarm, usually mounted in the ceiling of a hallway, or high up on a wall. If you know that the smoke from your burned dinner caused the alarm to trigger, carefully twist and pull the plastic round cover to expose the battery. By removing the battery you can silence the very insistent beeping alarm. However, you should never leave the alarm like that. Once the air has cleared and you have allowed fresh air to replace the smoke, you should re-install the battery and re-mount the alarm.


Sometimes a lever has to be pulled or a phone call placed to alert the fire department of the situation. Do not hesitate to take this step(s) in the event of a true emergency. In the U.S., dialing 9-1-1 from any phone will contact the dispatch center; they can determine which emergency personnel can appropriately handle your specific situation. Emergency responders are trained to handle all kinds of crisis situations. They also have the protection and equipment to intervene, so leave the heroics to them.


If you are in a public building, such as a school or office when you hear a fire alarm, do not panic, but calmly proceed towards the nearest non-electrical exit. In other words, do not run, scream, rush or push. Do not use any elevators, but only stairways in the event of an emergency.


Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can build up in an environment either from a malfunctioning fuel-burning device like a space or water heater, a blocked chimney, an open flame or car fumes in an enclosed space. Since this gas cannot be detected without the help of technology, more and more states have adopted mandatory CO detectors in new home builds, and recommend installing them in existing homes. Depending on the levels and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can kill a person. These monitors are designed to alert the occupants before the levels become dangerous, allowing time to evacuate the premises.


These detectors make an intermittent, high pitched beeping sound and will continue until disengaged or until they no longer detect dangerous levels of the poisonous gas in the environment. If you hear this sound, go outside and call 9-1-1. Do not make any calls from inside the house because this could spark an explosion. Do not linger, but if you can open a window on your way out, it could help to dissipate the fumes in the house. Generally the fire department will respond to these kinds of calls, checking out the house to gage the levels of the gas and to determine the source.


For example, perhaps you enjoyed a wood-burning fire in the fireplace that evening, and then after the fire died down you closed the flue and went to bed. In the middle of the night, you might hear the CO detector emitting its loud alarm. When the fire department comes to check it out, they discover that the elevated levels of CO in the home came as a result of closed in gases after the fire. They will probably tell you to leave the flue open overnight to allow those dangerous fumes to escape through the chimney. They might even recommend that you leave a window open just a very slight crack while enjoying the fire so that those gases can exit rather than get cooped up in the house.


Known as the “silent killer” because we cannot detect it without technology, carbon monoxide poisoning can never catch you unaware if you purchase a detector(s) and mount it as instructed in your home. You can purchase these devices for anywhere from $15 to $60 at a local hardware store—they can save your life!


Burglar Alarms

Some retail stores have installed devices designed to detect when a customer takes unpurchased merchandise beyond the doors. Merchandise might have actual apparatuses attached to them that only an employee can remove. Taking the item past the detectors at the doors can trigger a loud buzzing alarm, notifying the store personnel. If this happens to you when you are leaving a store, always stop and allow the employees to check your purchases. Sometimes a tag has not gotten removed even though you did purchase the item legitimately. Sometimes their tracking device is set too sensitively. But sometimes they do indeed catch people trying to leave the store with stolen merchandise.

Always check your purchases to make sure they do not have any monitoring devices still attached before you leave the store. Keep your receipt handy to show that what you have taken from the store you did pay for.

Severe Weather / Sirens

In the U.S., some states have a higher likelihood of certain natural disasters than others. Based on the area where you live, you may experience hurricane warnings (usually southern and eastern states bordering on the ocean or gulf), tornado warnings (usually interior states with a lot of flat land), blizzard warnings (usually cold, northern states), avalanche warnings (usually mountainous, snowy states), and flood warnings.


Disasters like these provide the benefit of early warning clues. Weather forecasters across the country have received training to detect the paths of destructive storms and use their expertise to help us know when to seek shelter. Tuning in to the weather forecast, whether on the news or online, can provide good information for planning ahead. Many cell phone services now issue warnings to smart phone users via their device.


In areas prone to severe weather, some communities invest in siren warning systems. They mount sirens on tall poles or buildings and initiate them to let people know that they should seek shelter. These sirens emit a very loud siren-like wail, detectable outside for miles. These sirens are intended as an outdoor warning system. If you hear a siren warning, go inside and tune in to the National Weather Service or your local weather broadcaster for further details and instructions.


To ensure that the warning system is functioning properly and always ready in an emergency, these sirens undergo regular “tests.” Your community will publish when they perform emergency tests so that you will know that hearing the siren during those times does not indicate a true emergency. Most communities conduct these tests monthly; so, for example, if you hear the sirens on the first Tuesday of every month between 11:00 and 3:00, you would know the system was undergoing testing.


Warnings vs Watches

If the conditions are “right” for a specific event, like a hurricane, tornado or blizzard, the national weather service will issue a “watch” to let people know that the possibility for this kind of severe weather exists in your area. The watch will turn into a warning if conditions deteriorate (worsen) and indicate the severe weather is expected to arrive.


So, if the weather conditions match those that usually trigger a tornado, the weather service may issue a tornado watch, so that people remain alert to the possibility of tornado activity. However, if a tornado has been sighted in your area, the watch turns into a warning and people should seek appropriate shelter.


The National Weather Service makes the following recommendations based on the weather threat:


o   The safest place to be during a tornado is underground.

o   Stay away from doors and windows.

o   Move to a small interior room, like a bathroom, closet or hallway.

o   Cover yourself with blankets to protect from flying debris.

o   Remain in a safe place until the threat has passed.


Many times the area of expected landfall for a hurricane undergoes an evacuation. If the evacuation is voluntary, determine whether your shelter/home can protect you under the expected conditions. If you decide to stay, take every precaution for your own safety. If the evacuation is mandatory, leave as soon as possible to avoid getting caught up in the mass exodus.


Stock up on food staples and alternatives to electricity, like lanterns, candles, fireplaces and generators. If you lose power, it could take days to reestablish, so plan accordingly. Close off rooms that you will not need to use. Drink and eat plenty to  avoid dehydration and keep your body fueled.


AMBER Alerts

The Protect Act passed in 2003, initiated what we know today as the AMBER Alert. Every state can choose what policies to adopt over and above the minimum national standards, but basically state law enforcement issues an AMBER Alert when a child 17 years old or younger has been abducted and is considered in danger and they have sufficient identifying information to release. This raises the awareness of the public so that they can help law enforcement find and rescue the missing child.


AMBER Alerts interrupt regular broadcast programming and can be accessed online and on mobile phones. A swift and broad response increases the chances of recovering the child without harm.