9-1-1 Basics

What is 911?

Nine-one-one (911) 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 911, but you should check with local officials in your area to make sure. A 911 call goes over dedicated networks to the appropriate 911 answering point (PSAP) for the caller's location, and trained personnel then send the emergency help needed.

What is Enhanced 911?

Enhanced 911, or E-911, is a system which routes an emergency call to the appropriate 911 answering point (PSAP) for the caller's location, AND automatically displays the caller's phone number and address. The 911 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 911 calls made from a cellular/wireless phone.

Who pays for 911?

In most areas each household and business pays a small monthly fee for 911 service that appears on their phone bill. There is no per-call charge for calling 911. However, EMS/ambulances dispatched through 911 may charge for taking someone to the hospital; this is a separate ambulance charge, not a 911 charge.

When should you use 911?

Nine-one-one (911) 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 911. It's better to be safe and let the 911 call taker determine if you need emergency assistance.

Do not call 911:

  • 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 911 by mistake, do not hang up. Tell the call taker what happened so they know there really isn't an emergency.

What about 911 prank calls?

It's a prank call when someone calls 911 for a joke, or calls 911 and hangs up. Prank calls not only waste time and money, but can also be dangerous. If 911 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 911 calls.

How do I make a 911 call?

In an emergency, dial 911 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 911 does not yet work.)

  • Stay calm and state your emergency
  • Speak loudly and clearly. Give the 911 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 911 caller doesn't speak English?

When necessary, a 911 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 911 caller is Deaf, or hearing/speech impaired?

911 call takers are trained to answer emergency calls from persons who are deaf or hearing/speech impaired.

If you uses a TTY/TDD, you should:

  • Stay calm, place the phone receiver in the TTY, dial 911.
  • After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times. This may help shorten the time necessary to respond to the call.
  • Give the call taker time to connect their TTY. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The 911 call taker should answer and type "GA" for Go Ahead.
  • Tell what 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 911.
  • Be prepared to provide your location information using an address, cross streets or landmarks, since relay calls may not display your location.
  • Answer the call taker's questions.
  • You may need to be transferred to another 911 center. Stay on the call if it is safe.

If you do not have a TTY/TDD or access to Relay services, you should dial 911, preferably from a landline/home phone. Do not hang up, keep the line open. With 911 calls made from a home phone, the caller's address is displayed on the call taker's screen, the call taker can listen for background noise, and help will be sent to the location displayed. As a last resort, call from a cell phone and leave the line open, your approximate location may be displayed.

Texting to 911 is not available in most areas, including Orange County.

For more information please visit the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 911 Basic Information webpage.