If you are reading this column, chances are you’ve grown up hearing about 911 most of your life! In the late ’80s and ‘90s, there was a primetime TV show “Emergency 911” that featured dramatic reenactments of calls to the crisis number. Since then, technology has grown from the one corded phone in the kitchen to many people having cell phones in their pockets and perhaps even no “landlines,” in their homes. It has some people wondering how and when to call 911, and that’s ok. It’s National 911 Education Month and a perfect time to get up to date on all things 911.

What is 911? It is a national emergency communication system and phone number. If you need emergency assistance you can dial 911 on any phone (landline or wireless device) and a trained person will instantly answer to assist you. However, we know that sometimes people aren’t using 911 due to lingering questions or concerns like these:

Can I call 911 from a cell phone? YES! Your cell phone may also have an option for making emergency calls easier than dialing, such as double-clicking a side button, etc. Get to know your device to see how it works now so that in the event of an emergency you know all your options to call.

Can I call from a cell phone without active service? All wireless phones call 911, but they will not give your location or a callback number. If disconnected, the 911 center has no way to call back the caller. Sometimes parents give phones like these to kids for emergencies, keep in mind, 911 will not know the child’s location or be able to call them back if they lose the connection.

Can I text 911? Sometimes. According to the Federal Communications Commission (Our Government), this is only available in some areas. If you attempt to send a text to 911 where the service is not yet available, you will receive a bounce back message and should call. You will also likely get a message asking if they can call you.

What if I am hearing impaired? If text-to-911 is not available, use the TTY or a telecommunications relay service, if possible.

What if I accidentally call or my child does? Don’t panic and don’t hang up. This happens! Just let the operator know. A hangup could make the responder think there is an existing emergency and possibly send local responders to your location. You can easily explain what has happened, you won’t be the first or last one.

Do I call 911 if I just want to talk to my local police or have a question? No. 911 is for emergencies only. Do not call 911 for local police numbers or information either. Only with immediate emergencies.

What if I am in danger? Tell them. Say it, “I am in danger. I am scared. I am not safe.” Your dispatcher will know what to do.

Calling 911 can mean saving a life, or a home, or getting help to the scene of a crime just in time. When you call 911 do your best to be prepared to say who you are, where you are, and what your emergency is. During an emergency we can all react in ways we don’t expect, do yourself a favor and put your address and phone number in your phone and wallet so if you need to read it back to someone you can, yes under stress, we sometimes can’t remember our own phone number even if we’ve had it our whole lives. At your workplaces, churches, anywhere really, put the exact physical address above or on your phones so that whenever they may need to call you can easily read it to the dispatcher.

Lastly, 911 is for emergencies! You should never call just to see if it works or to ask if it may be an emergency. They aren’t a consultation service, and that time could be deterring them from helping someone in a dire situation. 911 dispatchers are amazing humans, highly trained to be with people and connect them to help in some of the most tragic moments of life. When you call 911, trust that the person on the other line is there for you, trained to help you, and will stay with you on the line until help arrives. They will be asking you questions and maybe patching you into local responders too, but they are there to help and they are there because they care. No one wants to have to call 911, but it’s there, remember, for emergencies only.


Mary Hoadley

Director of The Wellness Center