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911 Myths

This page is for information about common misconceptions about 9-1-1.  Let us know if you have an idea for how to improve this page.

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Dialing a special number (112, *77, or #77) will get you to 9-1-1 even if your phone can't get a signal

False.  If you're cell phone can't get a signal, you can't dial 9-1-1, with or without dialing a special number.  See Snopes for more. Also read this story from NBC Montana.

If you get pulled over, dialing a special number (112, *77, or #77) will get you directly to the dispatch center so you can verify that the officer is legitimate and not an impostor.

False.  In some states, there are special numbers you can use instead of 9-1-1 to contact the highway patrol or state police.  Click here for a list of those numbers.  The only number that works throughout the U.S. that will always reach a dispatch center in your area is 9-1-1.  If you are concerned that someone may be impersonating an officer or if you are concerned for your safety during a traffic stop, dial 9-1-1.  See Snopes for more.

If you dial 9-1-1, the dispatch center will know exactly where you are.

Sometimes True.  How likely this is to be true depends:

If you call 9-1-1 from a traditional wired telephone, chances are very good that the call center will be able to determine your address.  Database errors do occasionally cause false locations to be displayed, and if you move and take your telephone number with you there is sometimes a delay between the time of the move and the time that the phone company updates your address in the database.

If you call 9-1-1 from a phone on a switchboard system, it depends on the type of system.  Some switchboard systems are set up to show the 9-1-1 operator the specific location of the extension you're using.  Some only show a generic address for the switchboard system.  In some cases, that may not even be the correct address.

If you call 9-1-1 from a cell phone, it depends on a number of factors.  Most 9-1-1 call centers in Colorado can receive latitude and longitude from 9-1-1 callers using cell phones, but not all cell phone 9-1-1 calls will deliver them. Some wireless companies attempt to determine the caller's location using a Global Positioning System chip in the caller's cell phone, but this doesn't work very well indoors.  Other wireless companies triangulate the caller's location using cell tower signals, but this doesn't work as well in rural areas where there are fewer cell towers.  Neither of these methods are 100% accurate.  The result is that cell phones calls to 9-1-1 may or may not deliver the caller's location to the call center, and if it does it may not always be correct.

If you call 9-1-1 from a Voice-over-Internet-Protocol phone, the dispatch center will receive the address you last registered with your provider.  If you entered your address incorrectly or if you have moved your phone since you last updated your address, the call may be delivered to the wrong dispatch center and will display the incorrect or outdated address.

As a rule, always be prepared to give your location verbally to the 9-1-1 call taker.

Anything you tell a 9-1-1 operator is confidential.

False.  Every state has different open records laws, but generally speaking 9-1-1 calls are recorded, are considered public record, and can be requested by the media or members of the public.  In Colorado, dispatch centers are allowed to withhold 9-1-1 recordings under certain circumstances, but there is no guarantee that your 9-1-1 call will be held as confidential.

You can send text messages to 9-1-1.

False.  There are a few places in the United States that are running pilot studies, testing text-to-911 systems, but throughout most of the U.S. and all of Colorado it is not possible to send a text message to a 9-1-1 call center.

Subpages (1): 911 Mitos