What Happens When You Accidentally Call 911? Important Info

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We are incredibly fortunate to live in the time that we do. It is only in very recent history that we’ve had the ability to call 911 and have police, fire, and/or ambulance services ready to help us in an emergency. It’s an incredible service and it’s amazing that it’s there for everyone. But what happens if you call 911 by mistake? 

Calling 911 by mistake is not an issue, as long as you stay on the line and explain to the call taker that you dialed by mistake. This is somewhat common and usually presents no problems. Do not hang up before explaining the mistake or it could cause a serious issue.

However, if you don’t handle it maturely, you might face a few problems. Here’s what you need to know. 

Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.

Also read: Does 911 Cost Money? The Price of Emergency Calls

What Is 911? A Brief History In North America

911 dispatcher

911 is the North American emergency telephone number and if you dial from the majority of phones in the United States, Canada, or Mexico it will connect you with an emergency services dispatch office. 

This dispatch office is known as a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and it’s their responsibility to listen to the caller and extract the right information to send an emergency response to the caller’s location. 

911, oddly, is also the emergency telephone number in the Philippines.

In most other locations globally, however, it is not and if you’re traveling, it can pay dividends to research the correct number before you find yourself in an emergency situation. 

The idea of an emergency service began in the United Kingdom in 1937, but it wasn’t until 1968 that it became available in the United States, and it took Canada another 4 years to join the party. 

Its use and implementation came mainly from the urging of the National Association of Fire Chiefs and the public threw their support behind the measure after the disturbing case of Kitty Genovese in 1964. 

What Happens When You Accidentally Call 911?

Accidents happen and it is possible to accidentally dial 911 under many different circumstances from pocket dialing on a smartphone to just pushing the buttons in the wrong order on a domestic telephone. 

While you should try to avoid these situations if you can, it’s worth noting that you’re not in trouble if you call 911 accidentally and the best thing you can do is explain the situation to the operator that answers the call.

This only takes a few seconds and helps to ensure that the operator is aware that there is no emergency, and they don’t need to send any kind of response to your location. 

What Happens If You Call 911 And Can’t Talk?

While there are many legitimate reasons that you could call 911 and have silence on the line, for example, when accidentally pocket dialing from a smartphone, there are other more sinister reasons that someone might not be able to talk when calling 911.

Therefore, the assumption is that if there is no one talking on the line that the operator should follow the “silent protocol” which means that they send a police officer to the location to investigate and see if there is any problem. 

There are some exceptions to this rule – in Maryland silent callers are offered a menu that requires a further keypress before a police officer is dispatched and, in the UK, you are expected to cough or press “55” before a silent call is considered to be worth investigating. 

However, the majority of North American PASPs operate on the silent call protocol. 

What Happens When You Accidentally Call 911 And Hang Up Right Away?

If a 911 PASP receives a call and it is immediately disconnected, they may follow the silent call protocol and that means they’re going to send a police officer to your location.

This is why it’s important that if you realize you have called 911 by accident, you don’t just hang up, but you explain that you’ve called by accident.

You don’t want to waste police or firefighters’ time, do you?

They may also follow another protocol for a terminated call and try to call your number back to determine if you are safe. Again, this is just wasting time at the PASP and might be preventing a real emergency call from getting through. 

Do You Get Charged For Accidentally Calling 911?

No. There is no penalty for accidentally calling 911 and you won’t find yourself billed for the error. 

The important thing is to make it clear that an error was made so that the PASP can focus on more important priorities. 

Is It Illegal To Accidentally Call 911?

No, it is not illegal to accidentally call 911. We all make mistakes; you won’t be penalized in any way for this and you should not be afraid to explain your mistake as soon as possible to the operator.

When Is It Illegal To Call 911?

It is illegal to call 911 for the purposes of a hoax. The 911 service is involved in the business of saving lives, wasting the time of the emergency services and the 911 operators can lead to the deaths of people. 

So, please, don’t do it. Not because it’s illegal but because it’s wrong. 

What Is Enhanced 911?

Today, the majority of Americans within the United States use a system known as enhanced 911. 

This maps the caller’s number and location data automatically to the PASP operator and saves them from having to obtain this information from the caller. 

There are some challenges to obtaining this data in a few locations in the US or if the caller is using a Voice over Internet Protocol service (such as Skype) to place their emergency call. 

In these cases, the operator may still need to get the location data from the caller. 

How Is 911 Funded?

In the United States and Canada 911 is funded by a charge on almost every telephone line in the country, it comes out to $2-$3 a month in most instances and this flat fee ensures that anyone can call 911 from almost any phone at any time without any charge at the time of calling.

This ensures the broadest reach for emergency services and that people are not deterred from making a necessary call because they are afraid the call will cost them money. 

What Happens If You Accidentally Call Emergency SOS on iPhone?

This works in exactly the same way as accidentally dialing 911 and emergency services get notified in the same way.

If you cancel this call, you will probably get a visit from a law enforcement officer who will want to see that you are fine. You will not be charged for this visit nor will you get into trouble for it.

Can 911 Trace Your Call?

Yes. Though not always. 

911 can trace all landline calls and the majority of cellphone calls (about 70%) but some cellphones do not provide enough data for the 911 operator to be able to trace the call successfully.

There is no way of identifying whether your cellphone supplies this data or not, at this moment in time. 

Does 911 Always Call You Back?

If you are disconnected from 911 before they have the appropriate data from you, they will try to call you back.

Does 911 Get Texts?

In most cases, 911 PASPs can receive text messages and all the major wireless service providers have been working since 2014 to ensure that they can get SMS messages easily.

If for any reason, your local PASP does not receive your text message you will be alerted by a bounce-back message which tells you it has not been delivered.

In this instance, you will need to contact 911 by phone to get through to them. 

Why Is My Phone Randomly Calling 911?

Many manufacturers of older wireless and mobile telephones had a great idea, they would provide you with a one-button emergency dial button for when you needed to get through to 911.

Unfortunately, while well-intentioned, this has the effect of making it super easy to accidentally dial 911 and the easiest way to stop this from happening is to lock the keypad on the phone that is randomly calling 911. 

If the calls persist after this? Then your device is almost certainly faulty and needs repairing. 


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