911 FAQs

Calling 9-1-1 from your cell phone

Q: Can I call 9-1-1 on my cell phone and is there a cost involved?

A: Yes, you can call 9-1-1 on your cell phone. However, be prepared to give the 9-1-1 call taker information about your location, because it is not the same as calling 9-1-1 on your home or business phone. It is free to call 9-1-1 on your cell phone.

Q: Does the 9-1-1 call taker know my location?

A: Assume the 9-1-1 call taker does not know your location. Even if your cell phone is able to provide location information, you will need to provide the 9-1-1 call taker with additional location information. Remember, the approximate location the 9-1-1 center receives could be as large as 3 football fields or more. Be prepared to give specific directions to your location if possible.

Q: What if I don't know where I am when I call 9-1-1?

A: Look for landmarks, large buildings, street signs or anything 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 9-1-1 where you are!

Q: Does the 9-1-1 call taker know my phone number when I call 9-1-1 on a cell phone?

A: Maybe or maybe not, depending upon your cell phone and the technology available within the 9-1-1 center your 9-1-1 call connects with. The safest way to approach the problem is to assume that the 9-1-1 call taker will not know your phone number and be prepared to provide them with that information.

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

A: All wireless 9-1-1 calls placed in Massachusetts are routed to calltakers at regional communications centers or the Massachusetts State Police. If you dial 9-1-1 from a cellular phone while in Tewksbury, the call will be routed to the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center. Depending on the location and nature of the call, the caller will be transferred to the local 9-1-1 center for further assistance.

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

A: Always try to call 9-1-1 back. Don't wait for the 9-1-1 call taker to try to contact you. They may not have received your cell phone number in the initial 9-1-1 call and may need additional information.

Q: Can I keep driving when I call 9-1-1 on a cellular phone?

A: It is usually best to pull over when calling 9-1-1, as there is less chance of the cell phone signal being dropped if in a stationary location. Additionally, any emergency instructions that need to be carried out can best be done while stopped. Finally, if help needs to reach you it is best to be 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 9-1-1 then stay calm, pay attention to the roadway with surrounding vehicles, and follow the 9-1-1 call taker's instructions.

Q: Should I program 9-1-1 or turn on my auto 9-1-1 feature on my cellular phone?

A: NO, please do not program 9-1-1 or use the auto 9-1-1 feature. There are numerous accidental calls to 9-1-1 from cell phones that have this feature. The callers often don't realize that their phone has called 9-1-1. Help reduce accidental calls to 9-1-1 by only calling when you have an emergency.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

Q: What is Voice Over Internet Protocol?

A: Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is an emerging technology that allows voice quality calls to be made over Internet connections. To access a VoIP service, the customer needs the provided adapter which is placed in between the computer and high-speed internet and a standard household telephone

Q: How does VoIP differ from traditional home phone service?

A: Unlike the traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), VoIP uses advanced technology to convert your voice into data that allows you to place and receive calls over a high-speed broadband internet connection. Also VoIP is not confined to your home - VoIP service can be accessed from anywhere there is a high-speed broadband internet connection.

Q: What is theappeal of VoIP to a consumer?

A: There are anumber features that make VoIP appealing to consumers. Below are a few of those features -

  • There is cost savings associated with making long distance calls over the Internet rather than the (PSTN). Since VoIP doesn't use a traditional telephone service there are no long distance charges to incur.
  • VoIP is portable - a VoIP subscriber can take the VoIP adapter with them anywhere they go as long as there is a high speed broadband connection. This portability allows the subscriber to keep their local number when they are away from their home.
  • Some VoIP providers allow customers to have Vanity Numbers, which lets you choose a specific sequence of digits that often spells a word or company name using the letters on your phone keypad.

Q: Can you use VoIP service from someplace other than your home?

A: Yes, with an adapter you can use it anywhere in the world where you have a high-speed broadband internet connection. You can bring your VoIP adapter anywhere and you won't pay long distance rates when calling back home. For example if a VoIP subscriber travels from their home in Boston to California they can call home to Boston and receive calls from Boston with no long distance charges even though they are physically in California.

Q: With VoIP, can I talk on the phone and use my computer at the same time?

A: Yes, your service will work even if you are simultaneously accessing the Internet, sending files or instant messaging over the same broadband connection with your computer

Q: Can you access 9-1-1 services with VoIP service?

A: It depends onyour VoIP service provider. VoIP is regulated at the federal level, therefore VoIP service providers (VSPs) are not subject to the Commonwealth's E 9-1-1 requirement. In June of 2005 the FCC issued an Order, (FCC 05-116) mandating that all VSPs deliver E 9-1-1 services no later than November 28, 2005.

The State 911 Department has worked with our E 9-1-1 service provider and VSPs serving Massachusetts to integrate the technology into our E 9-1-1 system. Before a VSP can be approved to provide VoIP service in Massachusetts they must go through a testing process with the State 911 Department to ensure the calls are delivered with complete and accurate information. For a list of VSPs currently approved to provide E 9-1-1 service in Massachusetts please visit our websitewww.mass.gov/e911.

Q: How does calling 9-1-1 from a VoIP phone differ from calling 9-1-1 from a traditional home phone?

A: A VoIP emergency service differs in a number of important ways from traditional emergency response services.

  • A public safety answering point (PSAP) may get an emergency call on a regular ten digit line without location information or call back number.
  • An accurate, up to date Service Address is required to route your calls to the closest PSAP in the event that you dial 9-1-1.
  • If you relocate your VoIP Service phone on a temporary basis, such as taking your equipment with you when you go to a vacation home, you must use a different telephone to dial 911 from your new location.
  • VoIP will not work during power outages, network outages network congestion. The use of data services at the same time as VoIP might also affect sound quality.

Q: What should I do if I'm interested in switching from traditional phone service to VoIP?

A: Here are some important tips when considering going to a VoIP phone service

  • Confirm with the VSP that they provide E 9-1-1 services and are in compliance with FCC Order 05-116
  • Provide your accurate physical address to your VSP to ensure that emergency services can be quickly sent to your location.
  • Be familiar with your VSPs 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 9-1-1 service.
  • Inform children, babysitters, and visitors about your VoIP service and its 9-1-1 limitations, if any.
  • If the power is out or your broadband connection is down, be aware that your VoIP service may also be out. Consider installing a backup power supply, maintaining a traditional phone line and analog phone, or having a cellular phone as a backup.
  • If you have questions about whether the phone service you are receiving is a VoIP service, contact your service provider for further information.