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MACC 911 FAQs Safety is Our First Priority. Integrity is Our Commitment.

911 Emergency Calls Frequently Asked Questions

E911 (Enhanced 911) is support for wireless phone users who dial 911. Since wireless users are often mobile, some sort of enhancement is needed to 911 service that allows the location of the user to be known to the call receiver.

You will be asked questions to help identify your emergency and pinpoint your location. Answer all questions as best you can. The information you provide allows us to respond to your emergency in the most efficient way. If necessary, the 911 Dispatcher will give you first aid/CPR instructions until help arrives.

Do not hang up! When the 911 Dispatcher answers, let them know that you called by mistake. If you just hang up, the Dispatcher does not know if an emergency actually exists at the location from which the call originated. If you are calling from a cell phone, the 911 Dispatcher will not have your location and is not able to dispatch help.

With Enhanced 911, in most cases the 911 Dispatcher will see the caller’s name, phone number, and address. If you hang up or the call is disconnected, they will call you back to ensure that you are safe and they may send a police officer to the address to ensure there is not a problem.

If this occurs, the 911 Dispatcher will normally dispatch a police officer to the caller’s location to emphasize the importance of calling 911 only in an emergency.

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. Rather, contact your local public safety answering point or call center through its non-emergency, 10-digit phone number.

With a few exceptions, 911 calls cannot be transferred to other jurisdictions except between call centers within a county and between adjacent counties. 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.

A number of private companies have developed and sell a variety of smartphone computer applications intended to supplement the use of 911. Because 911 system capabilities vary across the United States, it is important that application developers have confirmed that their company/organization has the legal authority to contact 911 on a caller’s behalf. 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.

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 in all types of emergencies. Managers and supervisors may also be certified as emergency number professionals, or ENPs, demonstrating that they have mastered the comprehensive knowledge base necessary to manage an emergency number program.

Local governments pass laws that allow them to collect 911 fees through your local telephone service or wireless provider. The fees collected are distributed to help pay for emergency communication and response services in your area. Enhanced 911 (E911), which enables a wireless device to transmit its phone number and geographic location to the 911 call center, is an example of how wireless services have upgraded their delivery of 911 calls over time. According to the FCC, some wireless service providers may choose to pass their costs of providing E911 service on to their customers and this charge may also be described as an E911 charge on your wireless telephone bill.

What are the FCC's rules on 911? The FCC's 911 rules require the following:

  • Wireless phone companies must transmit all 911 voice calls to 911 centers (also known as Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs).
  • Wireless phone companies must send information about your telephone number and location to a PSAP when you make a 911 call so you can get help more easily.
  • Wireless phone companies and other text messaging providers (i.e., those that enable consumers to send text messages to and from U.S. phone numbers) must deliver emergency texts to PSAPs upon request. If a PSAP requests Text-to-911 service, text messaging providers must deploy the service in that area within six months.
  • Wireless phone companies, as well as certain text messaging applications, must provide automated "bounce-back" messages in instances when you attempt to send a text message to 911 in an area where Text-to-911 service is unavailable. The bounce-back messages will inform you that Text-to-911 is not available and direct you to contact emergency services by another means, such as by making a voice call or using telecommunications relay services (if you are hearing or speech impaired).
  • The FCC does not have authority to issue rules regulating 911 centers, and so it cannot require these centers to accept text messages.

Text-to-911 FAQs Call If You Can, Text If you Can’t.

It is the ability to send a text message to 911. Texting during an emergency could be helpful if you are hearing or speech impaired, or if a voice call to 911 might otherwise be dangerous or impossible. But if you are able to make a voice call to 911, and if it is safe to do so, you should always make a voice call to 911.

Ask your wireless phone company if Text-to-911 is available in your area. You can also ask your state legislators or public safety officials if your local 911 center is prepared to accept Text-to-911 messages. Public information lines, such as 211 or 311, also may have more information on Text-to-911 service availability in your area.

Check with your wireless phone company. In general, you must have a text-capable wireless phone and a wireless service subscription or contract with a wireless phone company. You may also need a wireless data plan. Remember, you can make a voice call to 911 using a wireless phone that does not have a service plan, but you cannot send a text message to 911 without a service contract that includes texting

Text-to-911 is a new capability. It is likely to become more widely available over time as 911 centers modernize their systems to accept text messages and request the service from text messaging providers.

Texting to 911 is different from making a voice call to 911. When you make a voice call to 911, the Dispatcher will typically receive your phone number and approximate location automatically. However, in most cases, when you text 911 from a wireless phone, the Dispatcher will not receive this automated information. For this reason, if you send a text message to 911, it is important to give the 911 Dispatcher an accurate address or location as quickly as possible, if you can.

Voice calls to 911 are usually the most efficient way to reach emergency help. For example, voice calls allow the 911 operator to more quickly ask questions and obtain information from the caller, while two-way communication by text can take more time and is subject to limits on the length of text messages. In addition, when you make a voice call to 911, the Dispatcher will typically receive your phone number and the approximate location of your phone automatically.

Three dispatchers taking calls 2

Tips for VoIP Customers, Before You Need 911: VoIP: Voice Over Internet Protocol

  • Verify that you can access 911 with your phone. Check your service provider's web site for emergency calling features.
  • Be sure to activate the emergency calling feature of your service plan, if applicable.
  • If the power is out, your VoIP service may be out too. Consider purchasing a backup power supply.
  • If you travel with your VoIP adapter, it may not work for making 911 calls. Call from another phone.
  • Inform children, babysitters, and visitors about your VoIP service.
  • Post your address and call back phone number near your phone.
  • Know the 911 center that should receive your call and their general access phone number.
  • Consider keeping a landline phone for accessing 911 emergency services.
  • Burglar alarms, fax machines, satellite TV, and Tivo digital video recorders often rely on analog modems. Check with your VoIP provider to determine if their service supports analog modems.

Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) FAQs Not all VoIP Services Provide Access to the 911 Network

If you have emergency dialing activated and have mobile VoIP service with your provider, service is portable to any location with broadband Internet access. You may call 911 no matter where you physically reside. However, when you are not at the physical location that you entered in your customer profile, the call will not route to the proper 911 call center. Dialing 911 will automatically route your call to the local emergency personnel location for the address on file, not your temporary location. If you relocate your VoIP phone on a temporary basis, such as taking it with you when you go on a trip, don't use it to call for emergency help. Use another telephone, preferably a local landline, to dial 911.

Unlike traditional 911 service, the 911 Dispatcher usually will not be able to call you back if you are using VoIP and are disconnected. They often will not have access to your phone number. If you are disconnected, hang up and dial 911 again.

They may. Just as your regular cordless phone will not work without power, your VoIP phone may not work without power either. As a result, you may be unable to make any calls, including those to 911 during an electrical power outage. Similarly, you may not be able to make 911 calls from your VoIP phone if your broadband service provider has a service outage or if any other service disruptions keep you from being able to make any outbound call.

Yes. When you move, you must update your new location on your service provider's web site. It may take several days to update your record.

Yes. 911 industry leaders recommend that you keep your traditional phone line in addition to your VoIP phone service in order to successfully access 911 services and to have telephone access during a power outage.

Yes. It is very important that all persons that live in your home understand the differences in emergency calling with your new VoIP service. Children, babysitters, and anyone who will be staying at your house need to be educated on how to call 911 from VoIP in an emergency. It’s a good idea to post your phone number and address by the phone for easy reference.

It might, but it might not. Check with your VoIP service provider to see if they support analog modem traffic such as burglar alarms, fax machines, Tivo digital video recorders, etc.

Not without first contacting the Multi Agency Communications Center’s non-emergency line at 509-762-1160 and asking if you can place a test 911 call. If they are busy, you may be asked to place your test call at a certain time.

Some service providers automatically provide 911 dialing service, some offer optional 911 dialing through registration, and some do not support 911 emergency dialing or other emergency functions. These service providers advise end users to maintain an alternate means for accessing 911 service.

If the VoIP provider claims to provide 911 service, ask if calls are routed to the traditional 911 network. If yes, then the service is just like traditional telephone landline service. If the provider makes it voluntary or mandatory to sign up for 911 service, you may be required to go online and enter your name and address so you can be located in an emergency. It is very important to enter the information accurately and keep it up-to-date. If you are considering a telephone service that does not include traditional 911 service, you should ask yourself how members of your household, including children, visitors, and babysitters, will call for help in an emergency. Don't forget that they will have to know your address and be able to communicate it to emergency personnel.

There are important differences between some VoIP 911 emergency calls and traditional landline 911 service. It is important to familiarize yourself with these differences. With VoIP, often the 911 Dispatcher does not have a display of the number you called from or your location. In addition, your call may arrive on a general access line in the call center, rather than through the 911 emergency system.

You need to research the features of your VoIP service as it pertains to emergency dialing by accessing the service provider's web site. Search the provider's sites for "emergency calling." Once you know the limitations of your VoIP’s 911 service, you need to notify everyone who might possibly need to use your phone (spouse, children, babysitters, etc.), explaining how to use VoIP and its limitations.

When you sign up for VoIP with automatic 911 service, or when you subscribe to optional dialing 911 service, you fill out a short form that includes your physical street address. Then, when you dial 911, your call is routed from the VoIP network to the general access line in the 911 call center associated with the service address you provided when you signed up.

No. You cannot specify a post office box as your address. For 911 emergency dialing to work properly, the service address on file for you MUST correspond to the physical location of your VoIP phone. This will enable your service provider to accurately identify your emergency Public Safety Answering Point and correctly route your call.

You should tell the 911 Dispatcher, and notify the city, county, and state where you need help. The Call Taker can attempt to transfer your emergency call to the correct answering point. It is a good idea to know what police, fire, or sheriff's department is responsible for your 911 calls and have their 10-digit phone number on hand to provide the Dispatcher.

It depends on your VoIP service provider. The first information you will need to provide or verify for the 911 Dispatcher is your location, name, and telephone number, especially if the emergency service personnel does not have this information available automatically. When this occurs, your call goes to a general access line at the answering point, which is different from how traditional 911 calls are routed to an emergency call center.