Q. How do I know if a situation warrants calling 9-1-1?
A. Any situation that is life-threatening or involves significant property damage (e.g., a house on fire) should be addressed by calling 9-1-1. Click here for more detailed information on when to – and when not to – call 9-1-1.

Q. If I’m in doubt about whether to call or not, should I still call?
A. Yes. It’s better to be safe and let the 9-1-1 call-taker determine if you need assistance rather than possibly put someone’s life at risk by not taking action.

Q. What if I call 9-1-1 by mistake?
A. DO NOT HANG UP. Tell the call-taker what happened so that he/she knows that there really isn’t an emergency. If you hang up without speaking, you may cause the call-taker to believe that you are in serious danger (e.g., overcome by smoke in a house fire, threatened by an intruder, etc.) and send an ambulance to your location.   

Q. What are the costs of unnecessary 9-1-1 calls?
A. Prank calls or obvious non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 waste time and money, and pose a danger to public health. When 9-1-1 lines are bogged down by call-takers handling unnecessary calls, someone with a real emergency cannot get through. In many places, these calls are against the law and offenders will face legal action.

Q. Who pays for 9-1-1?
A. Every household or business pays a small monthly fee for 9-1-1 service on each telephone line that appears on its phone bill. There is no per-call charge for calling 9-1-1.  In Shelby County the monthly service fee for residential lines is $0.65 per month and the service fee for business lines is $2.00 per month.

Q. How can people who are deaf or speech/hearing-impaired call 9-1-1?  
A. People who are deaf or speech/hearing-impaired should have access to a TTY/TDD (Teletype/Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) in their home. Communications centers that answer 9-1-1 calls have special text telephones for responding to calls from these systems. If someone needs to use a TTY/TDD to call 9-1-1, he/she should:

  • Place the phone receiver in the TTY/TDD and dial 9-1-1.
  • After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times to notify the call-taker that the call is being transmitted with this system; this may help shorten the response time to the call.
  • When the call-taker is connected to his/her TTY, he/she will respond/type "GA" for "Go Ahead."
  • Type what type of emergency service is needed; police, fire or ambulance – as well as your name, phone number and the address where the help is needed.

If a deaf or speech/hearing-impaired person doesn’t have a TTY/TDD, he/she should call 9-1-1 and simply leave the line open. With most calls, the caller’s address is displayed on the call-taker’s screen and the help will be sent.

Q. How can a non-English speaker use 9-1-1?
A. A call-taker can add an interpreter from an outside line. In this situation, a non-English speaking caller will hear the call-taker briefly speaking to an interpreter as well as some clicking sounds on the line before the interpreter addresses the caller. It is important for the caller to remain calm until the interpreter is on the line.

Q. What is the difference between Basic 9-1-1 and Enhanced 9-1-1 Service?
A. Basic 9-1-1 Service – a call-taker at the local public safety answering point (PSAP) must obtain the nature of the emergency and its location by speaking with the caller or receiving the information via TTY/TDD.

Enhanced 9-1-1 Service – the call-taker at the PSAP has access to a display that shows the caller’s phone number and address. Currently, 93% of counties with 9-1-1 coverage have Enhanced 9-1-1 service.

Q. How is Wireless 9-1-1 service being implemented?
A. Phase 1 – When Wireless Phase I has been completed, the call-taker will automatically receive the phone number as well as the location of the cell tower handling the call. This information is critical in the event that the phone call is dropped so that the call-taker can work with the wireless company to identify the caller/subscriber.

Phase II – In this phase, the call-taker will receive the caller’s phone number as well as his/her location via latitude and longitude coordinates. For more information on cell phone 9-1-1 operation, click here.

Q. How many calls are made to 9-1-1 annually?
A. Each year approximately 200 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. According to the FCC, one-third are wireless calls; in many communities, it comprises one half or more of all 9-1-1 calls. In 2005 in Shelby County, 1,032,100 calls were made to 9-1-1.