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9-1-1 Basic Information


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What is 9-1-1?

Nine-one-one is the number most people in the U.S. and some in International countries call to get help in a police, fire or medical emergency. In some places, you may be able to be connected with Poison Control by calling 9-1-1, but you should check with local officials in your area to make sure. A 9-1-1 call goes over dedicated networks to the appropriate 9-1-1 answering point (PSAP) for the caller's location, and trained personnel then send the emergency help needed.

What is Enhanced 9-1-1?

Enhanced 9-1-1, or E9-1-1, is a system which routes an emergency call to the appropriate 9-1-1 answering point (PSAP) for the caller's location, AND automatically displays the caller's phone number and address. The 9-1-1 call taker will typically ask the caller to verify the information, which appears on his or her computer screen. In most areas, phone number and location information is available for 9-1-1 calls made from a cellular/wireless phone.

Who pays for 9-1-1?

In most areas each household and business pays a small monthly fee for 9-1-1 service that appears on their phone bill. There is no per-call charge for calling 9-1-1. However, EMS/ambulances dispatched through 9-1-1 may charge for taking someone to the hospital; this is a separate ambulance charge, not a 9-1-1 charge.

When should you use 9-1-1?

Nine-one-one (9-1-1) is only to be used in emergency situations. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police/sheriff, the fire department or an ambulance. If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency you should call 9-1-1. It's better to be safe and let the 9-1-1 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

Do not call 9-1-1:

  • for information
  • for directory assistance
  • when you're bored and just want to talk
  • for paying traffic tickets
  • for your pet
  • as a prank

If you call 9-1-1 by mistake, do not hang up. Tell the call taker what happened so they know there really isn't an emergency.

What about 9-1-1 prank calls?

It's a prank call when someone calls 9-1-1 for a joke, or calls 9-1-1 and hangs up. Prank calls not only waste time and money, but can also be dangerous. If 9-1-1 lines or call takers are busy with prank calls, someone with a real emergency may not be able to get the help they need. In most places, it's against the law to make prank 9-1-1 calls.

How do I make a 9-1-1 call?

  • In an emergency, dial 9-1-1 on your phone. It's a free call. You can use any kind of phone: push button, rotary, cellular/wireless, cordless, or pay phone. (With some pay phones, you may need coins to get a dial tone; with many wireless phones, Enhanced 9-1-1 does not yet work.)
  • Stay calm and state your emergency
  • Speak loudly and clearly. Give the 9-1-1 call taker your name, phone number and the address where help is needed.
  • Answer the call taker's questions. Stay on the telephone if it's safe to do so, and don't hang up until the call taker tells you to.

What if a 9-1-1 caller doesn't speak English?

When necessary, a 9-1-1 call taker can add an interpreter from an outside service to the line. A non-English speaking caller may hear a short conversation in English and some clicking sounds as the interpreter is added to the line.

What if a 9-1-1 caller is Deaf, or hearing/speech impaired?

9-1-1 call takers are trained to answer emergency calls from persons who are deaf, deaf/blind, hard of hearing or speech impaired.

If you use a TTY/TDD, you should:

  • Stay calm, using your TTY dial 9-1-1.
  • You may receive a quicker response from 9-1-1 by pressing any of the TTY keys a few times.
  • Give the call taker time to connect their TTY. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The 9-1-1 call taker should answer and type "GA" for Go Ahead.
  • Tell what type of help is needed-police, fire department, or ambulance. Give your name, phone number and the address or location where help is needed.
  • Stay on the telephone if it is safe. Answer the call taker's questions.

If you use a VRS (Video Relay Service) or IP (Internet Protocol) Relay, you should:

  • Register and provide your address with the relay provider of your choice. Keep your address updated.
  • Be aware that relay calls may take several minutes to connect. If you hang up, your call may not be connected to 9-1-1.
  • Be prepared to provide your location information using an address, cross streets or landmarks, especially if you are not at your registered location.
  • Your call may need to be transferred to reach the correct 9-1-1 center.
  • Stay on the telephone if it is safe. Answer the call taker's questions.

If you do not have a TTY/TDD or access to relay services, you should dial 9-1-1, preferably from a landline phone. With 9-1-1 calls made from a landline phone, the caller's address is displayed on the call taker's screen. Do not hang up; keep the line open so that the call taker can listen for background noise. If you must call from a cell phone, leave the line open. Call from cell phones may display your approximate location.

#Can I send a text to 9-1-1?

Texting to 9-1-1 is not available in most areas.

The 9-1-1 industry is committed to working with wireless carriers and the FCC to implement texting to 9-1-1 throughout the country in the next few years. You may check with your local 9-1-1 center to see if it is available in your area.

When text to 9-1-1 is available in your area please remember "Call when you can, text when you can’t.” Texting should only be used when you are unable to make a voice call to 9-1-1.

Here are a few things to know if you need to text an emergency to 9-1-1:

  • Text location information is not as robust as current location technology.
  • The first thing 9-1-1 needs to know is location and type of help needed.
  • Text in full words.
  • Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
  • Like all text messages, messages can take longer to receive, messages can get out of order or your message may not be received at all.
  • If texting to 9-1-1 is not available in your area or is temporarily unavailable you should receive a message on your phone to indicate that the text was not received by 9-1-1.

Click here for more information on text-to-9-1-1. 

NENA 9-1-1 Q&A Information provided in part by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Tarrant County 9-1-1 District, Denco Area 9-1-1 District, Greater Harris County, and the NENA Public Education & PSAP Training Committee.

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