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Frequently Asked Questions

While you may know that you should call 911 in an emergency, you may not be sure of when you should not call 911. Too often, requests to 911 do not involve a true emergency, which overloads the 911 system with non-emergency calls. Here are some answers to common questions Americans have about 911.

Calling or Texting 911

Many 911 call centers follow protocols that guide callers through a sequence of questions to quickly obtain information necessary for dispatching the right responders to the right location. Call-takers may also provide instructions about what to do until help arrives. Even though protocols are designed to help call-takers reassure callers and take charge of the situation, the experience can be stressful for a 911 caller who is not accustomed to dealing with emergencies. When you call 911, be prepared to answer the call-taker’s questions, which may include:

  • The location of the emergency, including the street address, and room/apartment number, if you’re in a large building

  • The phone number you are calling from

  • The nature of the emergency

  • Details about the emergency, such as a physical description of a person who may have committed a crime, a description of any fire that may be burning, or a description of injuries or symptoms being experienced by a person having a medical emergency

Remember, the call-taker’s questions are important to get the right kind of help to you as quickly as possible. Be prepared to follow any instructions the call-taker gives you. Many 911 centers can tell you exactly what to do until help arrives, such as providing step-by-step instructions to aid someone who is choking or needs first aid or CPR. Do not hang up until the call-taker instructs you to do so.

If you dial 911 by mistake, or if a child in your home dials 911 when no emergency exists, do not hang up – that could make 911 officials think that an emergency exists, and possibly send responders to your location. Instead, simply explain to the call-taker what happened.

Calling 911 by sending a text message is increasing across the United States, and efforts are underway to receive text messages at call centers nationwide. If you need emergency assistance, it is always best to call 911 if you can, and text if you can’t.

Even if text-to-911 services are available in your community, a voice call remains the best way to reach 911. If you send a text message to 911, but text-to-911 services are not available in your community, you should receive an immediate bounce-back message from the wireless provider telling you that the text message was not delivered. For more information about text-to-911, go to the Federal Communications Communications “Text to 911: What You Need to Know” page.

Calls should be made to 911 in time of a true emergency. Do call 911 if you develop symptoms requiring emergency assistance such as:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

  • New confusion or inability to arouse

  • Bluish lips or face

If you think you have been exposed to the Coronavirus or other emerging diseases, call your healthcare provider for medical advice. If you do not have a healthcare provider, contact your local health department for instructions. If it is available in your area, call 211/311/411 for general information about how your community is addressing any emerging diseases.

Many deaf and hard of hearing callers must still use a teletypewriter (TTY) text telephone device or a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) to contact 911. Invented in the 1960s, these devices are cumbersome and slow to operate. 

Some PSAPs can now accept text-to-911, in which you text a message to 911 from a mobile device instead of calling. Data from 2021 indicate that more than half of PSAPs are enabled for text-to-911, with a lot of variation among states. For more information on access to emergency services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing where you are, visit the National Association of the Deaf or visit the voluntary Text-to-911 Registry maintained by the Federal Communications Commission.

All wireless phones, even those that are not subscribed to or supported by a specific carrier, can call 911. However, calls to 911 on phones without active service do not deliver the caller’s location to the 911 call center, and the call center cannot call these phones back to find out the caller’s location or the nature of the emergency. If disconnected, the 911 center has no way to call back the caller.

These uninitialized phones are often used to place malicious or fake calls to 911 call centers. These calls are a burden on the 911 system because 911 call centers are required to find out whether or not an emergency truly exists.

Oftentimes, parents provide these uninitialized wireless phones as toys to young children, unaware that if the child dials 911, a live call will be connected with the local 911 call center. It is recommended that parents remove the phone’s battery before giving these phones to children.

With few exceptions, 911 calls cannot be transferred to other towns, cities or states. The best option to obtain emergency assistance in a different state, county or city is to dial the 10-digit phone number for law enforcement in the community where assistance is needed. Those numbers can be found on the local law enforcement agency’s websites.

For agencies and organizations who have national call centers (e.g., suicide hot lines, poison control) and wish to contact the appropriate local 911 call center, a list of 10-digit numbers for each of the approximately 6,000 call centers is available. Access to this list is limited for security reasons, and there may be a charge for access to the list, as it is maintained at significant expense. If you would like to contact the organization that maintains this database, please contact the staff of the National 911 Program at .

911 call centers save 911 calls and the amount of time they are required to save them varies from one state to another. If you need to obtain a copy of 911 call, please contact the 911 center that services the area where the 911 call was placed via its non-emergency phone number.

In your preferred search engine, search the key words “emergency communications center non-emergency number" and include the names of the city or town, state, and county or parish in your search. One of the first few search results will generally be the correct one.

  • Copies of recordings may or may not be available based on a number of factors, including the individual 911 center’s policy on call release, the length of time that has lapsed between the call and your request and other circumstances.

  • 911 centers may charge a nominal fee for the time and work to find and retrieve the call. That fee may vary by 911 center and local/state policies.

For more information, visit the National Association of State 911 Administrators site.

Please do not call 911 to obtain the non-emergency number.

Test calls confirm that your local 911 service can receive your 911 call and has the correct location information. Test calls can be scheduled by contacting your local 911 call center via its non-emergency phone number.

In your preferred search engine, search the key words “emergency communications center non-emergency number" and include the names of the city or town, state, and county or parish in your search. Test calls may need to be scheduled and are usually based on the workload experienced at the PSAP.

For more information, visit the National Association of State 911 Administrators site.

Please do not call 911 to obtain the non-emergency number.

Most counties have a 911 addressing coordinator who is responsible for updating information regarding address changes or resolving address issues. If contact information for the 911 addressing coordinator cannot be found on your county’s website, you may contact the non-emergency number for your county to ask for the appropriate addressing authority.

In your preferred search engine, search the key words “emergency communications center non-emergency number" and include the names of the city or town, state, and county or parish in your search. One of the first few search results will generally be the correct one.

Please do not call 911 to obtain the non-emergency number.

Funding 911

Local and state governments who are responsible for operating the nation’s 911 system, pass laws that allow them to collect 911 fees through your telephone service or wireless service provider. The fees collected by service providers are distributed to 911 call centers by state and local governments, to help pay for the operation of 911 services.

Funds collected for 911 operation are sometimes diverted for other purposes by state or local governments. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is charged with monitoring and reporting on States’ collection and usage of 911 funds, including information regarding the diversion of 911 fees from their intended purpose. Learn more about the FCC Annual Fee Diversion Report to Congress.

Teaching Children About 911

Teaching children when to call 911 is just as important as teaching them how to place a 911 call. A variety of resources are available to help parents and educators train children when and how to call 911. For more information, visit 911 for Kids. Parents should also be aware that wireless phones without a current calling plan through a wireless provider are still capable of connecting a call to a local 911 center. Children should be told not to dial 911 from these old or uninitialized phones, and it is recommended that parents remove the phone’s battery before giving these phones to children.

Even very young children can be taught about 911 and what to do in an emergency, as well as when not to call 911. 911 for Kids was created to make it easier for parents and teachers to educate children on when to call 911 and when not to, as a way to reduce the huge number of nonemergency calls for assistance.  These resources can also provide information on how to teach a child how to call 911 using a cell phone, even if they don’t know the phone’s access code. 

The site has many resources for educators and parents, including a free PDF, “Teaching Kids About Emergencies,” which includes guidance on how to prepare kids so they know what to do in the event of a medical emergency or fire as well as other events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, severe winter storms and thunderstorms. The PDF includes a printable form for Emergency Phone Numbers, which you can post on the refrigerator or another place your child will easily see it.

911 & Technology

Many private companies have developed and sell a variety of smartphone computer applications intended to supplement the use of 911. But because 911 system capabilities vary across the United States, it is important that application developers have confirmed that their company/organization has the technical ability and the legal authority to contact 911 on a caller’s behalf. Also, it is important to remember that an “app” used in one location might not work or be legal in another location. If you have any questions regarding the use of a particular app with the call center in your community, please contact the application provider directly to ask questions about legal authority or the use of their application by a specific 911 call center. There is more information for app developers who want to integrate with 911 call centers from NENA and APCO.

VoIP service allows users to place and receive calls to and from traditional phone numbers using an internet connection and can be used in place of traditional phone service. Because VoIP phones can be used anywhere an internet connection is available, the 911 call center cannot locate callers unless the caller has registered the VoIP device to a physical address through the VoIP provider. Anytime the VoIP phone is moved from one location to another, the owner should contact the provider to update the new physical location of the device. Learn more about VoIP devices from the FCC.

911 Professionals & Call Centers

Some 911 professionals are certified as emergency medical dispatchers (EMDs), emergency fire dispatchers (EFDs) or emergency police dispatchers (EPDs), which means they have received additional specialized training to assist callers for these types of emergencies. Managers and supervisors may also be certified, demonstrating that they have mastered the comprehensive knowledge base necessary to manage a 911 call center.

The U.S. 911 system is operated by local and state government, and their authority and responsibilities vary from one state to another. 911 professionals are employed by a variety of local and state agencies, including law enforcement agencies, fire departments, emergency management agencies, and Information Technology (IT) services, either as sworn or civilian personnel.

First, it’s important to know that telecommunicators may also be called “emergency communication specialist,” “dispatcher” or “call-taker.” The role’s responsibilities can vary depending on where you work, as 911 centers are overseen by local, state or regional agencies—not the national level. Some 911 professionals who have received additional training are also certified as EMDs (emergency medical dispatchers), emergency fire dispatchers (EFD) or EPD (emergency police dispatchers).

In some Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs)—also called Emergency Communication Centers (ECCs)—telecommunicators receive, process and dispatch requests for help, while in others they are responsible for just one step in the process, such as dispatching first responders to the location of the incident.

When you apply to be a telecommunicator, the application process may include a background check, psychological testing and/or assessment of computer skills. Most telecommunicators seek out this work because of a sincere interest in serving their community, and they are a critical part of public safety for every community.

If hired, you’ll undergo training that will cover a wide range of topics, including communication; the technology you’ll use to handle calls; how public safety first responders such as the fire service, EMS and law enforcement respond to various types of incidents; legal issues; and ways to manage stress and stay healthy on the job. A section on covers the recommended 911 minimum training for telecommunicators, though these guidelines aren’t mandated and your city or state training may be different. 

To explore telecommunicator job openings, visit the career center at the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) site and check for available positions in your city, county or state government. APCO International also has a Career Services section of their site with an executive search service and resume review service.

Last Updated: 03/08/2023