Frequently Asked Questions: E911 Email the Department

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What is 911?

Nine-one-one (9-1-1) is the number most people in the U.S. and some in International countries call to get help in a police, fire or medical emergency. In some places, you may be able to be connected with Poison Control by calling 9-1-1, but you should check with local officials in your area to make sure. A 911 call goes over dedicated phone lines to the 911 answering point closest to the caller, and trained personnel then send the emergency help needed.


Who pays for 911?

Each household or business pays a small monthly fee for 911 service on each telephone line that appears on his or her phone bill. There is no per-call charge for calling 911. However, EMS/ambulances dispatched through 911 may charge for taking someone to the hospital; this is a separate ambulance charge, not a 911 charge.


When should you use 911?

911 is only to be used in emergency situations. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police/sheriff, the fire department or an ambulance. If you are ever in doubt of whether a situation is an emergency you should call 9-1-1. It's better to be safe and let the 911 operator determine if you need emergency assistance.


Do Not Call 9-1-1:
o For information;
o For directory assistance;
o When you're bored and just want to talk;
o For paying tickets;
o For your pet;
o As a prank.


If you call 9-1-1 by mistake, do not hang up. Tell the operator what happened so they know there really isn't an emergency. Unfortunately, the 9-1-1 Center receives many unintended calls that result when cell phone buttons are depressed accidentally in purses, pockets, or piles. The dispatcher has to determine if the call is a valid emergency and whenever there is doubt about the nature of the call, emergency responders must be dispatched. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) has initiated strategies to reduce the number of unintentional 9-1-1 calls, but not all wireless carriers have agreed to incorporate the recommended actions.


What about 911 prank calls?

It's a prank call when someone calls 911 for a joke, or calls 911 and hangs up. Prank calls not only waste time and money, but can also be dangerous. If 911 lines or operators are busy with prank calls, someone with a real emergency may not be able to get the help they need. In most places, it's against the law to make prank 911 calls.


How do you make a 911 call?

  • In an emergency, dial 9-1-1 on your phone. It's a free call. You can use any kind of phone: push button, rotary, cellular/wireless, cordless, or pay phone. (With some pay phones, you may need coins to get a dial tone);
  • Stay calm and state your emergency;
  • Speak loudly and clearly. Give the 911 operator your name, phone number and the address where help is needed;
  • Answer the operator's questions. Stay on the telephone if it's safe to do so, and don't hang up until the operator tells you to.

What if a 911 caller doesn't speak English?

When necessary, a 911 operator can add an interpreter from an outside service to the line. A non-English speaking caller may hear a short conversation in English and some clicking sounds as the interpreter is added to the line. Language interpretation services should be considered for each jurisdiction.

What if a 911 caller is deaf or hearing/speech impaired?

Communications centers that answer 911 calls have special text telephones for responding to 911 calls from deaf or hearing/speech-impaired callers.

If a caller uses a TTY/TDD, the caller should:

  • Stay calm, place the phone receiver in the TTY, dial 9-1-1;
  • After the call is answered, press the TTY keys several times. This may help shorten the time necessary to respond to the call;
  • Give the operator time to connect their TTY. If necessary, press the TTY keys again. The 911 operator should answer and type "GA" for Go Ahead;
  • Tell what is needed (police, fire department or ambulance). Give your name, phone number and the address where help Is needed;
  • Stay on the telephone if it is safe. Answer the operator's questions.
  • If a deaf or hearing/speech-impaired caller doesn't have a TTY/TDD, the caller should call 911 and not hang up. Not hanging up leaves the line open. With most 911 calls, the caller's address is displayed on the operator's screen and help will be sent.


I am assessed a $1.00 fee for 9-1-1 service on my telephone bill every month. Where does it go?

User fees for 9-1-1 (Adobe .pdf) vary by state. Effective July 1, 2007, each subscriber in Montana pays a monthly fee of one dollar for 9-1-1 and 10 cents for TDD, per access line. The fees are collected by telephone companies and submitted to the Department of Revenue's Miscellaneous Tax Division who in turn passes the funds on to the Department of Administration for distribution to the fifty-eight 911 jurisdictions in Montana. Funds for those counties that have not yet filed a plan for E911 service are invested in the State's Short-Term Investment Pool (STIP). The interest earnings are allocated to the jurisdiction upon approval of an E 911 final plan.


How much money is collected statewide from this assessment?

According to report generated after Montana's 911 Advisory Countil meeting of April 30, 2008, $1,618,380 was collected statewide between July 1 and December 31, 2007.


How much does my county get and how is the money distributed from this fund?

Basic 911 funds are allocated to each county based on population. The law provides that no county shall receive less than 1% of the total allocation. E911 funds are allocated similarly according to population, but distributed only to those counties who have an approved final E911 plan.


What is the "Universal Service Fund"?

A universal fund which helps compensate telephone companies for providing access to services at reasonable and affordable rates throughout the country, including rural, insular and high cost areas, and to public institutions.

These fees have been charged in connection with consumers' long distance service. The amounts charged and the name describing the universal service-related fees vary considerably among carriers. Some carriers have labeled the fee as "Universal Connectivity Charge," "Federal Universal Service Fee," "Carrier Universal Service Charge (CUSC)," and even "Local Service Subsidy."


How much does it cost to develop and implement E911 service in my area?

On the average, excluding personnel costs, the mapping, purchase of hardware, software and implementation costs range from $200,000 to $300,000 per county. Annual maintenance costs (including staff hours) vary, but typically expends all (if not more than) annual distributions to the counties, thereafter relying on General Fund monies within the jurisdictions.


What is Wireless Enhanced 911?

In most areas of North America, citizens have basic or enhanced 911 service from their landline (aka wireline) phones in their homes or workplaces. Basic 911 means that when the three-digit number is dialed, a operator/dispatcher in the local public safety answering point (PSAP), or 911 center, answers the call. The emergency and its location are communicated by voice between the caller and the operator. In areas serviced by Enhanced 911, the local 911 center has equipment and database information that allow the operator to see the caller's phone number and address on a display. This lets them quickly dispatch emergency help, even if the caller is unable to communicate where they are or what the emergency is.

However, when 911 calls are made from wireless phones, the call may not be routed to the closest 911 center, and the operator doesn't receive the callback phone number or the location of the caller. This presents life threatening problems due to lost response time, if callers are unable to speak or don't know where they are, or if they don't know their wireless phone callback number and the call is dropped.


What are the Phases of Wireless E911?

There are 3 phases that are referred to in implementing Wireless 911 service. The most basic of these, sometimes called Wireless Phase 0, simply means that when you dial 9-1-1 from your cell phone a operator at a public safety answering point (PSAP) answers. The operator may be at a state highway patrol PSAP, at a city or county PSAP up to hundreds of miles away, or at a local PSAP, depending on how the wireless 911 call is routed.

Wireless Phase I is the first step in providing better emergency response service to wireless 911 callers. When Phase I has been implemented, a wireless 911 call will come into the PSAP with the wireless phone call back number. This is important in the event the cell phone call is dropped, and may even allow PSAP employees to work with the wireless company to identify the wireless subscriber. However, Phase I still doesn't help operators locate emergency victims or callers.

To locate wireless 911 callers, Phase II must have been implemented in the area by local 911 systems and wireless carriers. Phase II allows operators to receive both the caller's wireless phone number and their location information.