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911 Bureau of Emergency Communications

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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions - 911 Calls from a Cell Phone 

 

Q:  Can I call 911 from my cell phone and is there a cost involved?

A:    Yes, you can call 911 from your cell phone. Calls to 911 are free from any cell phone. Be prepared to give the 911 calltaker information about your location, because it is not like calling 911 from your home phone.

Q:  Does the 911 calltaker know my location?

A:    Always assume that the 911 calltaker does not know your location. Even if your cell phone is able to provide location information, the chances are you will need to provide the 911 calltaker with additional location information. Location accuracy is not always reliable. Caller location can be located to within 165 feet (50 meters), but sometimes it can be up to 2000 feet (600 meters) or as large as 3 football fields or more. Be prepared to give specific directions to your location.

Q:  What if I don’t know where I’m at when I call 911?

A:    Look for landmarks, large buildings, street signs or paperwork nearby that may contain address information. Think back to the main street or highway you were near when your emergency occurred. If others are around, ask them where you are.  

 Do not depend on your cell phone to tell 911 calltakers where you are!

Q:  Will the 911 calltaker know my phone number when I call 911 from a cell phone?

A:    Maybe or maybe not, depending upon your cell phone provider. The safest way to approach the problem is to assume that the 911 calltaker will not know your phone number and be prepared to provide them with that information.

Q:  Will 911 call me back if I hang up while waiting for someone to answer my call? 

A:    Do not hang up if you have an emergency and have called 911. If you hang up before your call is answered, assume the 911 phone system will not capture your cell phone number to enable a calltaker to call you back. 

Q:  When I called 911 from my cell phone, I was asked to press a key or say something to get through to 911. Why is this?

A:    If you call 911 from a cell phone in Multnomah County, you will reach a recording that will direct you to press any key or speak anything at the beep. This filter is in place to minimize accidental calls to 911

Q:  Why is the 911 calltaker asking me so many questions?

A:    Seconds save lives. The more questions 911 calltakers ask the more information they can pass on to the emergency personnel responding to your 911 call. This information allows the emergency responders to more accurately prepare. In addition, when dealing with medical calls many 911 calltakers are trained to give emergency pre-arrival instructions. These instructions start the emergency response to the situation immediately.   

Q:  While the 911 calltaker is speaking to me is help being sent?

A:    Once the 911 calltaker determines an emergency exists, basic information and reason for the 911 call is obtained, the information is sent to Police, Fire, or EMS dispatchers who then dispatch the appropriate help to the 911 caller. In many cases, the 911 calltaker will continue to ask questions, provide pre-arrival instructions and relay information on situation updates to the emergency responders until they arrive at the scene.

Q:  Why does the dispatcher transfer my call to another agency?

A:    Your call to 911 may need to be transferred to another agency because cell phone calls are sent to a 911 answering point based on cell radio coverage. Cell coverage areas don’t always match jurisdictional boundaries, so most calls are routed to a 911 answering point that serves the majority of the area. Your call may need to be transferred to the appropriate agency for the area you’re calling from.   

Q:  What do I do if I’m cut off after they answer?

A:    Cell signals can be disrupted and your 911 call may be unintentionally disconnected. If this happens, always try to call 911 back. Don’t wait for 911 calltaker to try to contact you. They may not have received your cell phone number in the initial 911 call and may need additional information.

Q:  Can I keep driving when I call 911 from a cell phone?

A:    It is usually best to pull over when calling 911, as there is less chance of the cell phone signal being dropped. Additionally, any emergency instructions that need to be carried out can best be done while not in a moving vehicle. Finally, if help needs to reach you it is best to remain in one place so help can get to you, instead of trying to meet them somewhere. If you cannot safely pull over to speak to 911 then stay calm, pay attention to the roadway with surrounding vehicles, and follow the 911 calltakers instructions.

Q:  Should I program 911 or turn on my auto 911 feature on my cell phone?

A:    NO, please don’t program 911 or use the auto 911 feature. There are numerous accidental calls to 911 from cell phones that have this feature. The callers often don’t realize that their phone has called 911. Help reduce accidental calls to 911 by only calling when you have a life-threatening emergency.

Q:  Is it better to call 911 from a landline or a cell phone?

A:   Landlines and cell phones each have advantages when it comes to contacting 911 in an emergency. When you call 911 from a landline, the calltaker usually knows your location automatically. When you call from a cell phone, 911 probably will not know your exact location, which means you must be able to provide an address or otherwise describe your location so help can reach you. Another advantage of calling 911 from a landline is that the phone system captures your number, and 911 will call you back if you hang up before your call is answered. The advantage of calling 911 from a cell phone is that you may have it available when you aren’t near a landline. If you call 911 from a cell phone and hang up before your call is answered, 911 will not be able to call you back. Remember, when you call 911 from a cell phone in Multnomah County, you will be asked to say something or push any button. This filter is in place to minimize accidental calls to 911. This allows 911 calltakers to remain ready to answer your emergency call.