A three-digit dial can mean relief when the world is showing you its worst.
You count on immediate response as seconds determine survival.
That`s how it`s supposed to work, but in Sacramento, that's not always the case.
All the landline calls for the Capital City area come first to Sacramento`s communication center on San Joaquin Avenue.
It was ground zero for almost 470,000 calls last year alone.
Those calls are answered by just a handful of people.
And on a typical weekday morning when commuter-clogged Sacramento swells to one million?
âFour people answering the phone for 911 and non-emergency? That`s not enough people,â said Aaron Donato, veteran 911 dispatcher and communications director for the Sacramento Police Officers Association.
Thatâs right â" just four people.
At times it can be moreâ¦at times less.
It can mean 911 emergency calls have to wait.
âThose calls can wait in excess of one to two or three minutes, and three minutes is a really long time. In fact...it's excessive,â said Donato.
The goal is just ten seconds.
Status boards at both ends of the communications center track incoming calls, distribution, and wait time.
âAnd right now is a pretty good time because it`s zero across the board,â said Captain Mike McCarthy of the SPD Communications Division.
He says the boards donât look like that often.
Rigorous training is also key.
Some experts say the centerâs dispatchers are better trained than any others in the country.
They undergo ten weeks of phone training, 18 weeks of mentoring and separate schooling on radio communication that can run six months.
Still, there're times the calls can be overwhelming.