Call for help

From Academic Kids

This article is about methods of calling for help. For information on the computer-themed television show, see Call for Help.

Below are ways to call for help in an emergency.

One should call for help any time there is a danger for life or public order. This includes life-threatening — or potential life-threatening — situations like but not limited to

  • a person is in a state of cardio-respiratory arrest
  • a person is not breathing
  • a person is unconscious
  • a person is bleeding abundantly
  • a person has fallen on the back and cannot feel parts of his body anymore
  • a person has been injured by falling from more than two meters high
  • a person is in a state of extreme confusion (cannot remember his name, age, or where he is, or loses knowledge of a language he normally knows)
  • a woman is having a baby
  • a person is mugged

though the call can be for prevention of one of the above situations, i.e. when one witnesses a dangerous situation while there is still no casualty (e.g. an object or a stopped vehicle is on a traffic lane, suicide candidate, etc.).

An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate threat to human life or property, though this definition may be different in some areas. Intentional false reports of an emergency are usually prosecuted as a crime. These can put lives at risk due to the unnecessary redirection of emergency services.

The call for help is only a step of the emergency action that must be made after the protection and the primary assessment.



With any telephone, wired or wireless, anywhere in the world, one can call an emergency telephone number for emergency assistance. These numbers include:

If the local emergency number is unknown, it is recommended to try the four most popular variations, 999, 911, 112 and 119 as even if these are not official emergency numbers in the country, they may still have been assigned such a status by the telecommunications company due to their popularity elsewhere. Failing this, one may dial the operator (often by dialing “0”) and state clearly that it is an emergency.

When possible, it is recommended to use a wired, or landline, telephone: the quality of the communication is better, and the call can be easily located (a call for help is useless when the rescue team does not know where to go).

If both of these services are unavailable, then one should call anyone that they can reach.

When one is connected to the emergency service, the proper procedure is for that person to:

  1. Introduce themselves.
  2. Give the phone number from which they are calling, if they are asked for it. This will allow a call-back in case the communication is interrupted. A phone number can also physically locate the caller. In many cases the operator will know the number from which the call originates, as it is often passed on automatically by the telephone network.
  3. Give the exact location of the event, including the name of the city, the name of the building, or on the road the number of the road, and the direction of the lane.
  4. Describe the situation: illness or accident, and in the latter case, specific danger, number of casualties.
  5. When there are only a few casualties, the description of their general state (alert or unalert, breathing or not) and of the affliction (physical trauma, disease, other).
  6. The first aid actions already performed.
  7. Answer the question, listen to the information given; the caller should never hang up first.

An emergency number should never be used except in an emergency. In some countries, misuse of an emergency number may result in a fine or charge by the phone company. Being lost or stranded is generally not an emergency and one should dial an operator (often by dialing “0”) for help instead.

Emergency call boxes

Some places are equipped with emergency call boxes, e.g. train stations or highways. In such a case, the use of these call boxes is the best solution: the call can be easily located, the person who answers the call knows perfectly the environment and will be able to guide the emergency services.

This is particularly true on the road: a call on a cell phone without the location of the accident is useless. It is more efficient for a bystander to drive a few minutes to find an emergency call box.


If one has access to a two-way radio of any sort, then they may transmit the words “EMERGENCY EMERGENCY EMERGENCY” followed by their location and the nature of the emergency. Then, they should pause between transmissions to listen for answers. There is often a transmit button on the microphone that must be pressed to talk and released to listen.

If one is using a marine VHF radio, they should set the channel to “16” (≡ 156.8 MHz). If one is using a CB radio, they should try setting the channel to either “9” (≡ 27.065 MHz, designated as an emergency channel) or “19” (≡ 27.185 MHz, used by truckers). If one has an aircraft radio, set the selector dial to “121.5 ” (MHz) or “243.0” (MHz). If one is using a type of radio that they are unfamiliar with, then they should first try using the currently set channel or frequency. If no one responds after several attempts, they should write down the current frequency and try others that appear to be in use, returning to the original frequency periodically.

The keyword “MAYDAY” should only be used aboard a vessel or aircraft which is in immediate danger of sinking or crashing. Using it otherwise can endanger the lives of emergency responders tens or hundreds of miles or kilometers away, because helicopters and aircraft will respond to a mayday call with limited fuel supplies and risk crashing in order to pinpoint the caller's location. This has caused fatal crashes several times in open ocean and in the Canadian and Alaskan outback.

In an emergency, one should remember the mnemonic “Why PATSI”:

  • Why they are calling
  • Position (as best known)
  • Altitude (if they are in an aircraft, on a mountain, and so on)
  • Track (what direction are they headed in, or are they stationary)
  • Speed (how fast are they going)
  • Intentions (what they are going to do, and what kind of help they need)

See also: Global Maritime Distress Safety System

Making contact

One may contact a person hundreds of miles or kilometers away who is not familiar with the caller's area. It may be necessary for the caller to give their location. In an urban area, a street address, nearby business or cross streets should be given. In a rural area, the following information may be given: a highway number and exit, a map or GPS coordinates if there is time, or the route from the caller's location to the nearest landmark.

The caller will have to state the nature of their emergency. They will be asked many questions, some of which may seem irrelevant. The caller should answer and stay on the line until they are released. They may be given advice on how to proceed depending on the capabilities of the person or dispatch center they are speaking to.

Wilderness emergency signals

Other distress signals are primarily for use in rural or isolated areas, or in the wilderness. These include “SOS” or anything in groups or triangles of three — markers, gunshots, fires, etc. Survival training includes ground to air signals that can be used to signal passing aircraft with flares, mirrors or marks made on the ground or snow. Again, these signals should only be used in an actual emergency and destroyed when the person or group using them is rescued. Pilots will take extreme risks to locate and report what they believe to be an emergency signal from the ground.

When in mountainous areas the international distress signal is 6 blasts of a whistle or flashes from a torch, followed by a one minute silence, followed by the signals again. The answering call will be three whistle blasts or flashes, usually indicating that mountain rescue teams have been informed. Even after receiving an answering call, emission of the distress signal should not be stopped as it will help rescuers locate the fr:Premiers_secours : alerte it:Chiamata di emergenza lb:Noutruff


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