Frequently Asked Questions

Generally speaking, people are aware that they should call 911 in an emergency, but they are less aware of the circumstances in which they should not call 911. The result is that many requests to 911 do not involve true emergencies, which overloads the 911 system with non-emergency calls.

What happens when you call 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.
Can I text 911 for emergency assistance?
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 911 quick facts.
What should I do if I acccidentally dial 911?
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.
Can I dial 911 from a wireless phone without a wireless calling plan?
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.
How can I prevent my child from accidentally dialing 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.
How do I place a "test" call to make sure 911 works for me?
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. To contact the local 911 center responsible for answering calls from your location, go here and click on the state in which you are located. The person responsible for operating the state’s 911 system will be identified, and they should know who you should talk to at your local 911 call center, to schedule a day and time for test calls.
How do I know my local 911 has the correct address for my home or business?
When calling 911, it is important to know your location and be able to provide 911 with the correct address and closest cross streets or landmarks. If you would like to contact your local 911 call center to confirm the address that correlates with your phone number is correct, do not dial 911. To contact the local 911 center responsible for answering calls from your location, go here and click on the state in which you are located. The person responsible for operating the state’s 911 system will be identified, and they should know who you should talk to at your local 911 call center, to confirm your address.
How can I get a copy of a 911 call?
911 call centers save 911 calls, and the amount of time they are required to save them varies from one state to another. To contact the local 911 center responsible for answering calls from a particular location, go here and click on the state in which the 911 call was placed. The person responsible for operating the state’s 911 system will be identified, and they should know who you should talk to at your local 911 call center, to discuss how to obtain a copy of a 911 call.
How can I reach 911 in a different state, county or city?
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 nhtsa.national911@dot.gov. .
How can I register my Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Phone for 911?
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.
What are 911 apps?
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.
Who manages 911 call centers?
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.
Are 911 call takers certified?
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.
Why are 911 fees included on my landline or wireless bill?
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.
What is 911 Fund Diversion?
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.