Frequently Asked Questions

Learn about 9-1-1, how we work and what you need to know to ensure a quick response time

9-1-1 Frequently Asked Questions

Read answers to often-asked questions about 9-1-1 below.

9-1-1 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 9-1-1 call goes over dedicated phone lines to the 9-1-1 call center closest to the caller. Trained personnel then send the needed emergency help.

A small monthly fee for 9-1-1 service appears on the phone bill for each telephone line (both land line and cellular). There is no per-call charge for calling 9-1-1, even from a phone booth.

9-1-1 is for emergencies only. You should only dial 9-1-1 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 9-1-1.

  • 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 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 know where to send help.

There are times when you may not know the address of your location. The 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 calltaker to dispatch help more quickly and efficiently.

Many cell phones are pre-programmed to call 9-1-1 when a certain key is pressed. Be sure to lock your key pad so 9-1-1 is not accidentally dialed. However, if this does happen, stay on the line and advise that it was an accidental dial.

Do not text a message to 9-1-1. Text messaging is not available in Madison County. 9-1-1 can only receive calls from telephones, cell phones or special telephones such as TTY’s (which are used for the hearing impaired).

The Huntsville-Madison County 9-1-1 Center uses LanguageLine, a service providing translation for over 140 languages.

Many 9-1-1 hang-up calls are made by children playing with the telephone. Each time a 9-1-1 hang-up call is received, the 9-1-1 calltaker will call back to determine if there is an emergency.

If, on callback, there is an answer, the 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 calltaker will request to speak to an adult to ensure everything is okay.

Adults should not punish children who call 9-1-1 when no emergency exists. Use the opportunity to teach kids when and when not to dial 9-1-1. If children are punished for calling 9-1-1, they may hesitate to call during a legitimate emergency.

Helping Kids Understand How to Be a Responsible 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 calltaker tells you to hang up.