911 vs. 311 – When to call what number - Live Work Travel USA|Live Work Travel USA

911 vs. 311 – When to call what number

With all the new things going on in our lives as expats, we sometimes forget to learn some basic things that Americans learn while growing up here. One of these things is the correct use of the number 9-1-1. In American movies and TV shows it’s always related to a medical emergency, fire or to call the police for help and backup. So I’m sure you’ve heard 911 a million times and you know this is the number to call when burglars enter your home, accidents happen and fires break out.

But what expats sometimes don’t know is, that 911 should only be used for true emergencies and not for malfunctioning street lamps or noisy neighbors. For the latter, several major cities in the U.S. and Canada established the number 3-1-1.

311  is supposed to help keeping the emergency line 911 clear for true emergencies. Both numbers can even be maintained by the same call center, but 911 calls will always get priority over all other calls. Please be mindful of that and dial wisely. I listed a lot of occasions below to show when to call what number.

Kudos to the site WhenToCall911.com for listing everything that would be worth to call 911.

When to call 911

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness when talked to or touched
  • Drowning
  • Unexplained seizures or convulsions
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision
  • Mental change (such as confusion, unusual behavior, difficulty waking or speaking)
  • Unexplained severe headache
  • Sudden or intense pain
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Severe vaginal bleeding
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Choking
  • Severe burns
  • Allergic reaction
  • Trauma (injury)
  • Hypothermia or abnormally low body temperature
  • Heat stress or exhaustion
  • Motor vehicle accident injury
  • Industrial accident
  • Drug overdose or poisoning
  • Neck or back injury

When to call 311

Again, the primary goal of 311 is to keep the 911 line clear for real medical emergencies. So, dial 3-1-1 for:

MSVG / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
  • Potholes, sinkholes and utility holes in streets
  • Missed trash pickups
  • Illegal parking
  • Dead animals on the road
  • Requests for tree trimming
  • Sight Obstruction
  • Schedule Bulky Item Collection
  • Reserve Park Shelter
  • Report High Weeds and Grass
  • Debris in roadway
  • Illegal burning
  • Non-working street lamps, parking meters or traffic lights
  • Noise complaints
  • Parking Law Enforcement
  • Reporting stolen vehicles

Here in Charlotte, NC the number 311 can also be called to find lost pets, ask questions about taxes or get information about flood conditions. Check out this page on Wikipedia to learn what is special about 311 in your city.

loop_oh / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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2 Responses to “911 vs. 311 – When to call what number”

  1. Nancy Rienow says:

    Hi Dan!

    It’s been a while since I’ve looked at your site – you’ve certainly added a lot of great information!I especially liked information about the 911/311 numbers – something I didn’t know.

    One thing I’ve been looking for is any information you might have on insurance (other than healthcare) for expats.

    As well, I am putting together a short text about Adjusting to a New Culture – including an explanation of Culture Shock and coping strategies – something I use in my trainings. Would that be an duplicating anything you’ve already got?

    Hope all is well with you.

    Thanks for your help on the insurance topic!


    • Dan says:

      Hi Nancy, I hope you’re doing good.
      One thing that pops into my mind when I think insurance for expats, is how expensive car insurance is when you first get here. And that’s because they treat you as a newbie driver, even though you might have been driving in your country for 20 years. That in itself is a little culture shock.
      Feel free to use anything you might be useful in my blog for your text about Adjusting to a New Culture.


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