Frequently Asked Questions about Calling 911
911 is the number most people in the United States, and some other countries, call to get help in a police, fire or medical emergency. A 911 call goes over dedicated phone lines to the 911 call center closest to the caller. Trained personnel then send the needed emergency help.
A small monthly fee for 911 service appears on the phone bill for each telephone line (both land line and cellular). There is no per-call charge for calling 911, even from a phone booth.
911 is for emergencies only. You should only dial 911 if someone is hurt, in danger, or if you are in need of police, fire, or emergency medical assistance. If you are not sure your situation is an emergency, you should err on the side of safety and call 911.
- For information, directory assistance or for specific phone numbers
- When you are bored and just want to talk
- To pay traffic tickets
- To get help for your pet
- As a prank
- For non-life threatening situations
- For a crime that is no longer in progress
The 911 calltaker is trained to ask a series of questions. Some questions are always the same:
- “What is the location of the emergency?”
- “Tell me exactly what happened.”
- “What is the telephone number you are calling from?”
Once the emergency response is initiated, the calltaker will ask additional questions that will assist in providing a better, more accurate response.
Your phone number and location information allows the calltaker to call you back in case the call is dropped and lets 911 know where to send help.
There are times when you may not know the address of your location. The 911 calltaker will ask you to provide a mile marker number, an exit number or a landmark like a business name. Remember, it is your responsibility to take note of what street you are on, what cross streets you are near and what mile markers you passed. Keeping your location in mind will enable the 911 calltaker to dispatch help more quickly and efficiently.
Many cell phones are pre-programmed to call 911 when a certain key is pressed. Be sure to lock your key pad so 911 is not accidentally dialed. However, if this does happen, stay on the line and advise that it was an accidental dial.
You can text 911 in Hunstville-Madison County. This service is available to those who have cellular service with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, SouthernLINC, or Sprint. Texting 911 should be considered a secondary option only to dialing 911 from a cellular or landline phone and should be limited to the following circumstances:
- When calling 911 is not possible, such as if the caller is deaf, hearing or speech impaired;
- If a caller is otherwise unable to speak, because of a medical condition (such as a stroke), or
- If speaking would be unsafe, as in the case of abduction, domestic violence, or home invasion
The Huntsville-Madison County 911 Center uses LanguageLine, a service providing translation for over 140 languages.
Many 911 hang-up calls are made by children playing with the telephone. Each time a 911 hang-up call is received, the 911 calltaker will call back to determine if there is an emergency.
If, on callback, there is an answer, the 911 calltaker will question the person who answers the phone to determine if an emergency exists. If a child answers the phone on a callback, the 911 calltaker will request to speak to an adult to ensure everything is okay.
Adults should not punish children who call 911 when no emergency exists. Use the opportunity to teach kids when and when not to dial 911. If children are punished for calling 911, they may hesitate to call during a legitimate emergency.
Helping Kids Understand How to Be a Responsible 911 Caller
It is important to stay on the line and answer the calltaker's questions.
Critical questions your calltaker will ask include:
- What is the Location of the Emergency?
- Tell Me Exactly What Happened
- What is the Phone Number You are Calling From?
- What is Your Name?
- Are You at the Location Now?
- Were Weapons Involved or Mentioned?
- Please Describe the People/Weapon/Vehicles at the Scene
- Do You See Smoke or Fire?
The most important information the 911 calltaker needs is the exact address or location of the emergency. If you do not know the address, look around for a street sign, a mile marker or a nearby business name so the 911 calltaker can help the police, fire or medical responders find you.
Parents should help their kids memorize important things like your complete address. If you live in an apartment complex, know your building number, floor level and apartment number. It is also helpful if you know your telephone number and your parent’s names.
Try to stay calm, answer the questions as well as you can and follow the calltaker's directions. Stay on the phone until the 911 calltaker tells you to hang up.