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Learn About 9-1-1

Almost everyone knows to call 9-1-1 in an emergency… but too many people call 9-1-1 for non-emergencies. This ties up 9-1-1 lines and operators and delays responding to calls for actual emergencies. When should you call 9-1-1?

Improper 9-1-1 Calls Proper 9-1-1 Calls
General information or directory assistance Life- or limb-threatening situations such as:

  • Person not breathing
  • Serious bleeding
  • Apparent heart attack/symptoms
  • Apparent stroke/symptoms
  • Protruding bones
  • Person is severely disoriented
  • Person is having seizures
Traffic information or directions Observing smoke or fire in a building/home, field, wooded area, or similar
Non-emergency transportation to hospitals or medical offices Traffic or other accident with possible injuries
Reporting injured animals/wildlife Possible poisoning
Pranks Situations where bodily harm is possible

…but remember, when in doubt, call 9-1-1!

9-1-1 Dispatch centers receive hundreds of calls a day from cellphones where 9-1-1 is programmed on speed-dial and something causes the phone to “pocket-dial.”

Some people avoid calling 9-1-1 when they should, such as when they are uncertain:

  • Whether someone is actually having a heart attack or stroke
  • If a person who stopped them is a “real” police officer

There is a critical need for public education regarding proper use of 9-1-1.

My location is automatically provided when I call 9-1-1 from ANY phone, isn’t it?

With some cellphones, your location is not automatically provided to the operator in the 9-1-1 Emergency Call Center (Center). This means the Center can’t call you back if your call is disconnected. This is always the case with phones that are only capable of dialing 9-1-1—these phones are often given to abused persons or the elderly. In some areas, your location of a will not be provided to the Center no matter what type of phone or carrier you use. Some Internet phone services, such as Skype, do not participate in the 9-1-1 system. When using Internet services it is possible your location may not be available to route calls to the correct Center.

I can send a text message to 9-1-1, can’t I?

Text messaging to 9-1-1 is not available except in limited areas where trials are being conducted. Text-to-911 should only be used by people who are (I) speech- or hearing-impaired, (ii) in a situation where they would be exposed to danger if they were heard making a voice call (such as if they are hiding from a violent person), or (iii) in a location with insufficient cell coverage to place a voice call. It simply takes longer to convey the necessary information by text message for a First Responder to be dispatched. From the text-to-911 trials that are being conducted, the average text-to-911 “call” takes 7 minutes to complete while the average voice 9-1-1 call takes only 2 minutes complete.

In 2013, the biggest national cellphone providers agreed to send bounce-back messages to let people trying to send text-messages to 9-1-1 that those messages can’t be delivered. Technological limitations will prevent those messages from being sent in all cases in which a text message cannot be delivered.

Starting in mid-2014, cellphone providers will be required to make text-messaging to 9-1-1 available. However that doesn’t mean that text-to-911 will be available in all areas. 9-1-1 call centers which can receive the text messages will not be provided very accurate location information, due to technological limitations.

You need to understand the limitations of 9-1-1 and know when new 9-1-1 Services are implemented. Old-fashioned telephones remain the surest way to get fast, accurate 9-1-1 responses.

Some 9-1-1 Call Centers have established 10-digit numbers for the speech- and hearing-impaired to use in place of 9-1-1. Information on the caller’s location is not provided where text messages are sent to these 10-digit numbers. These 10-digit numbers may remain in service even after text-to-911 is available, because it may take time for people to learn of the availability of text-to-911.

For more on text messaging, click here.

What about “Reverse 9-1-1”, Amber Alerts, and other emergency notifications?

Emergency Notification Services, sometimes referred by the trade name “Reverse 9-1-1,” are relatively new. You may not be aware of these services. You receive Emergency Notification Services warning you of a hazardous situation. These calls may be confusing—but you are NOT supposed to call 9-1-1 to verify the information provided. When you call to 9-1-1 you impact the ability of the Center to make additional Emergency Notification calls to your family and neighbors. Unnecessary calls prevent Call Center personnel from addressing the incident and coordinating First Responder activities.

A recent enhancement to Emergency Notification Services is your ability to register to receive Emergency Notification messages on your cellphones, Internet phones, and pagers, by text message, fax, or email. In many areas, fewer than 30 percent of residents have registered to receive messages in this way. In some areas up to 50% of residents no longer have an old-fashioned telephone. There is a need for additional public education about the ability to register cellphones and other devices with Emergency Notification Services.

Children need to be educated in the proper use of 9-1-1. Many public safety agencies distribute materials to parents and schools to assist with this.

The Foundation can assist public safety agencies with their education efforts. We can help neighborhood and grassroots organizations educate their neighbors. We can provide cost-effective public education on a statewide basis—but we need your financial support.