Cellular phones have made it very easy for citizens to report traffic accidents and other emergencies that are not near traditional telephones. This gets emergency assistance to victims faster, and this has saved lives. There are however, several major problems with cell phones and their impact on 9-1-1.

Can I call 9-1-1 from my cell phone?
Yes, but it is not the same as your home or business phone. When you dial 9-1-1 from a cellular phone, you will be connected to a 9-1-1 center, but it might be the wrong one, especially if you are near the border of two cities or counties.

Be prepared to give your location and the City or County if needed. You may get a dispatcher in a bordering County and they may not recognize the street name you give them.

Is my location known when I call 9-1-1?
NO! That is the big problem with cellular phones today, the 9-1-1 dispatcher does not know where you are.

We often receive calls from neighboring counties and we try to transfer these calls to the correct 9-1-1 center.

Because we now have “Phase II” service from most wireless carriers, we at least know which tower your call is using and, in most cases, a latitude and longitude location which will be displayed on our Computer Aided Dispatch mapping. We can usually get close to your possible location but it will not be exact. Your ability to describe your location will be very helpful.

Funding from cellular phones – Wireless phones pay a small fee per month to help cover the expenses of handling their calls. 9-1-1 is a free call to cellular customers, you are not billed for the minutes used.

The Future of wireless phones & 9-1-1
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that wireless telephones must begin providing 9-1-1 service similar to wired phones. More and more people are using wireless phones and this will ensure they can access emergency services using their wireless phones.

Phase I – Now – Wireless phones must provide the tower address that is receiving their signal and the phone number to the 9-1-1 center. This will help us narrow down where you are if you are not sure. We can also try to call you back if the connection is lost. This is a big improvement over the original situation.

Phase II – Now – Wireless phones must provide a location within 125 meters 67% of the time. This will be a great improvement and will bring wireless telephones up to a comparable standard with wired phones.

9-1-1 centers will have computerized maps to display the location of a wireless caller. Your latitude and longitude are your “virtual address” when dialing 9-1-1 from a wireless phone. ​

The Public Safety Challenges of VoIP Services
Traditional phone services have generally associated a particular phone number with a fixed address. Portable interconnected VoIP services enable consumers to take their home or business phone service almost anywhere. Because certain interconnected VoIP services can be used from virtually any Internet connection, the location of the caller cannot automatically be determined.

This portability raises a number of challenges for the emergency services community. The FCC has recently taken action to make sure that emergency calls from these VoIP services will get through to the appropriate public safety authorities, but there are certain things that consumers need to know.

When you call 911 from a traditional telephone, the call in most cases is sent to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that is responsible for helping people in a particular geographic area or community. PSAP personnel often can automatically identify your location and direct the closest emergency personnel to that location. They also often can automatically identify your telephone number so that they can call you back if you are disconnected.

Because VoIP service works differently from traditional phone service, consumers who use it should be aware that VoIP 911 service may also work differently from traditional 911 service. The FCC and VoIP service providers are striving to eliminate these differences, but some of them are:

  • VoIP 911 call may not connect to PSAP;
  • VoIP 911 service may ring to the administrative line of the PSAP, which may not be staffed after hours, or by trained 911 operators;
  • VoIP 911 service correctly connected to the PSAP, but did not automatically transmit the user’s phone number and/or location information;
  • VoIP customers may need to provide location or other information to their VoIP providers, and update this information if they change locations, for their VoIP 911 service to function properly;
  • VoIP service may not work during a power outage, or when the Internet connection fails or becomes overloaded.

To reduce these differences, and any possible risks to public safety posed by interconnected VoIP 911 service, the FCC has imposed the following requirements:

  • All interconnected VoIP providers must automatically provide 911 service to all their customers as a standard, mandatory feature without customers having to specifically request this service. VoIP providers may not allow their customers to “opt-out” of 911 service.
  • Before an interconnected VoIP provider can activate a new customer’s service, the provider must obtain from the customer the physical location at which the service will first be used, so that emergency services personnel will be able to locate any customer dialing 911. Interconnected VoIP providers must also provide one or more easy ways for their customers to update the physical location they have registered with the provider, if it changes.
  • Interconnected VoIP providers must transmit all 911 calls, as well as a callback number and the caller’s registered physical location, to the appropriate emergency services call center or local emergency authority.
  • Interconnected VoIP providers must take appropriate action to ensure that their customers have a clear understanding of the limitations, if any, of their 911 service. All providers must specifically advise new and existing customers, prominently and in plain language, of the circumstances under which 911 service may not be available through the interconnected VoIP service or may in some way be limited in comparison to traditional 911 service. They must distribute labels to all customers warning them if 911 service may be limited or not available and instructing them to place the labels on and/or near the equipment used in conjunction with the interconnected VoIP service.
  • Interconnected VoIP providers must obtain affirmative acknowledgement from all existing customers that they are aware of and understand the limitations of their 911 service.
  • In some areas, emergency service providers are not capable of receiving or processing the location information or call back number that is automatically transmitted with 911 calls. In those areas, interconnected VoIP providers must ensure that a 911 call is routed to the appropriate PSAP.

Tips for VoIP Subscribers
If you have or are thinking of subscribing to an interconnected VoIP service, you should:

  • Provide your accurate physical address to your interconnected VoIP service provider to ensure that emergency services can quickly be dispatched to your location.
  • Be familiar with your VoIP service provider’s procedures for updating your address, and promptly update address information in the event of a change.
  • Have a clear understanding of any limitations of your 911 service.
  • Inform children, babysitters, and visitors about your VoIP service and its 911 limitations, if any.
  • If your power is out or your Internet connection is down, be aware that your VoIP service may not work. Consider installing a backup power supply, maintaining a traditional phone line, or having a wireless phone as a backup.
  • If you have questions about whether the phone service you are receiving is an interconnected VoIP service, contact your service provider for further information.

Have you ever dialed 911 by accident? If you have, not to worry, sooner or later it happens to everyone that uses a phone. Here is some useful information on what to do when this happens.

Several times daily our center receives 911 hang-up calls. Some are accidental while others are intentional. Generally 911 hang-up calls received from within our area are a direct result of someone trying to dial long distance or attempting a number with the exchange of “791 – 1XXX.” The seven is not pressed firm enough when dialing the number, so the telephone system thinks you are dialing 911

If you do dial 911 by accident, do not become alarmed or frightened by the mistake and immediately hang up the phone. Please stay on the phone until someone at the communications center answers. When the communicator asks what your emergency is, simply tell him/her that you dialed 911 by accident. The communicator will verify your address, name and phone number for future reference, then both parties can end the call. Often times though, callers hang up when they realize they called 911 by accident. When this happens the call shows up in the communications center as an abandoned call. Or if a phone is dropped or knocked off the table and dials 911, we may end up with an open line 911 call. In either instance, immediately a 911 communicator will call you back to check if everything is okay at your residence. If the phone is busy or if there is no answer at the location where the call came from a law enforcement officer will be dispatched to the location to attempt to make contact with someone.

Cell phone 911 hang-up calls are another challenge facing the communications center. A lot of times a cell phone dials 911 by accident, and there will be no voice on the line. All the communicator may hear are voices or music in the background. The communicator will try to speak loud enough to get someone to answer. At this time cell phones do not provide the callers location which makes it difficult to locate someone that may have a real emergency and need help. The only location provided by the cell phone call is the tower address from where the cell phone call is transmitted from. So if you do call 911 to report an emergency using your cell phone please tell us where you are. If you can’t provide exact street numerics as to your location, tell us what landmarks that are around you. While cell phones do provide modern handy mobile communications please be careful when carrying them. At anytime they can accidentally dial 911.

We are fortunate to have in our Enhanced 9-1-1 phone system, the ability to attach information to addresses or locations. This feature is known as Additional Descriptive Information or “ADI”. If a person within our county is confined to bed, immobilized by illness, on oxygen or has some other situation which emergency responders would find useful, we can enter the information in the phone information we receive when you call 9-1-1. When a call is made from that location, the special information is automatically displayed for the telecommunicator.

A form for submitting ADI details may be obtained by calling (910) 798-6922.​

A few examples of non-emergencies:

  • When your electrical power is out
  • When your cable is not working
  • When your other utilities are not working
  • When you didn’t pay your utilities in time
  • To request a phone number
  • To ask a question
  • To find out what the time is
  • To be transferred to another phone number
  • To speak with an officer or deputy
  • When you’re lonely and just want to talk
  • To report incidents that happened last week

Please call our administrative numbers to report non-emergency incidents. We realize that, very often, people just don’t know who else to call and we will be happy to help you if we can.​

Dispatchers follow a certain line of questioning to obtain your emergency information. They ask questions as to WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO, WHY AND WEAPONS.

The first thing you should hear when the 911 Communicator answers is “New Hanover County 911, what is the address of your emergency?” Then the Communicator will generally ask similar questions listed below to gather more information concerning your emergency.

For example:

  • What are you reporting?
  • Where did this occur?
  • When did this occur?
  • What is the phone number you are calling from?
  • Where are you now?
  • Are any weapons involved?
  • How many people are involved?
  • What is the specific location?
  • Has this happened before?
  • Are alcohol or drugs involved?
  • What is happening now?
  • Are you hearing or seeing anything?
  • Are there any dangerous animals in the area?
  • Are there any hazards in the area?
  • Do you want to be contacted by an officer?

After gathering your information, we take that information and create what is called a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) “Event”. This information is entered and viewed by the “Radio Dispatcher”. The Radio Dispatcher reads the call and determines selects the proper unit to take the call.

Dispatch is like an emergency room at a hospital. They work on the patients that are currently there. But if a more serious case comes in (victim of a gunshot), they have to drop what they are doing and work on that person that requires immediate attention. So if you make a request for an officer and it is superseded by a higher priority call, you may have to wait.

Please remember to listen to the dispatcher’s questions and answer them as accurately as possible. Remember, when the dispatcher is entering your information into the computer, there is a format they must follow. This ensures the calls sent to the radio dispatchers have uniform information that is easy to read. This also allows them to give the officer on the radio the correct information in the correct order. We don’t want to lose anything in the translation of information.

A Few More Tips When Calling 911:
No matter what the situation, try to remain calm. Be sure to speak slowly and clearly. Time is of the essence. Every 911 operator knows that. It hampers response when a 911 operator has to ask the caller for information several times over because he couldn’t comprehend what was being said. Try to be as calm as possible and speak slowly and clearly. This ensures the 911 operator has the correct information the first time (s)he asks for it.

Answer all questions asked by the 911 operator – even ones that seem repetitious. If you get asked questions that seem redundant, you should answer them again. Either the operator is trying to clarify something that could be confusing or (s)he is verifying some information. A lot of things go on in the background during an emergency call, and none of the questions being asked or information being obtained hasn’t a purpose. It is very important that you answer all questions to the best of your ability. Try not to lose patience, no one is stalling or delaying emergency response.

Remain on the line until the dispatcher tells you that it is okay to hang up. Many 911 centers are staffed by people who are trained to give instructions for all types of calls – advice that saves lives. Listen to what the Communicator has to say. He or she might be able to offer medical instructions or it may be that an officer responding to your call needs to be constantly updated as to what’s happening. It’s very important that you don’t hang up until told to do so.

Please don’t insist that the 911 operator ‘hurry up’ or demand that the ‘(PD, FD, EMS) get here now!’ Believe me, they are going as fast as they can! Time seems to slow down during a crisis and seconds can seem like hours. Police, Fire and/or EMS responders are doing everything they can to get to the scene as quickly as possible. Demanding they ‘get here now’ will not make them go faster.

9-1-1 should only be used when there is a life-threatening emergency. This could be medical, fire or police. If there is any danger to someone’s life or situation where the person causing the problem is still around, call 9-1-1. It is best in all medical situations to use 9-1-1.

452-6120 is used for “urgency without emergency.” This can be anything other than a life-threatening situation. Use this number when your car has been broken into, an accident without injuries, or for general questions.

The call takers ask questions based on protocols that help determine what’s wrong and how many responders need to go. The questions that are asked are to protect the public and the first responders. Remember, the call takers work on a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system and while they are questioning you, they are also entering the information for the dispatcher who is actually the one sending the first responders to you. By answering questions concerning medical conditions or suspect information, you may be able to provide the information needed to get the best response possible.

In the case of medical calls, call takers ask very specific questions that allow them to provide pre-arrival instructions, like talking you through CPR, that may help save a life until the first responders arrive.​

Requests for audio recordings or transcripts from 911 calls must be placed in person at the 911 Communications office located at 230 Government Center Drive in Suite 185. Requests are accepted Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5p.m.

To submit a request please:

  • complete the 911 Records Request form prior to visiting the 911 Communications Office
  • bring proof of identification, required to verify release of records

Please note: there is a small fee for records that must be paid in cash only at the time the records request is submitted. The fees for records are $5.00 for CDs, and ten cents per page for transcripts.

For questions, please call (910) 798-6920 or email lgavin@nhcgov.commlangley@nhcgov.com, or dcottle@nhcgov.com.

Emergency Management & 911: 230 Government Center Drive, Suite 115 • Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-6900 • Fax 910-798-6904