Calling 911 is one of the most stressful situations a person can find themselves in. And while rapid response times are the goal of any city’s emergency services department, the speed at which help arrives can vary greatly by location.
In order to get a sense for how fast responses occur when someone dials 911 for a “priority one” emergency, we scraped government data to compare state-by-state average times. Below is a comparison of data collected from across 15 major cities in the United States.
Fort Worth, TX
San Antonio, TX
Las Vegas, NV
San Jose, CA
San Francisco, CA
New York, NY
** This city does not separate Priority 1 responses from other priority levels when measuring response time.
- Data sourcing: While the research team tried to rely as much as possible on primary sourcing direct from government data, in some large cities this wasn’t readily available. In these cases the team used secondary sourcing from reporting done by local news journalists. If a large city did not have publicly available data, it was not included on this list. Additionally, the most recent data varied from city to city, so these times are not direct comparisons. (In other words, the most recent data for some cities was from 2020. For other cities, it was older.)
- Naming conventions: In general, there are widely accepted definitions of “priority one” and “priority two” when it comes to emergency service response queues. Still, it is subjective based on each city’s definition, meaning there can be slight variance in response time records based on this subjectivity.
- Priority one vs priority two: Priority one is often defined as “[an] emergency call which requires immediate response and there is reason to believe that an immediate threat to life exists.” Priority two is often defined as “[an] emergency call which requires immediate response and there exists an immediate and substantial risk of major property loss or damage.”
- Response times save lives: For a single minute decrease in 911 response times, it is estimated that 10,000 lives will be saved every year (nationally), according to the Wall Street Journal.
- Target response times vary: There is no federal regulation around 911 response times, but most local emergency agencies aim for somewhere between 5-7 minutes for priority one, with most aiming to have operators answering all 911 calls within under 20 seconds.