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E-911

Enhanced 911 services

Enhanced 911 Program Office 
7300 Perimeter Rd S, Room 128
Seattle, WA 98108-3848
206-296-3910
Fax: 206-296-3909

King County
Office of Emergency Management

3511 NE 2nd Street
Renton, WA 98056-4192
206-296-3830
Fax: 206-205-4056
OEM home page

9-1-1 and wireless phones

Fact: 75% of the 1.76 million 9-1-1 calls in King County in 2013 were made from wireless phones.

As wireless use continues to grow, it becomes even more important to know how your cell phone works when calling 9-1-1.

Know Your Cell Well

Did you know that you may be dialing 9-1-1 without even knowing it? In 2012, 7% of wireless calls to 9-1-1 were dialed accidentally. These calls can be caused by:

  • A phone in your pocket or purse may call 9-1-1 when it is bumped or sat on.
  • A phone with no service which can still call 9-1-1.
  • A phone locked in emergency mode.

You can help reduce these accidental 9-1-1 calls by knowing how your cell phone works and following a few simple rules:

  • Lock your cell phones keypad when it is not in use
  • Do not give old phones to children to play with as toys.
  • Know if your cell phone has an emergency mode and how it works.
  • Do not program 9-1-1 into your cell phone, and if your cell has a 9-1-1 auto-dialing feature, turn it off.

Accidental calls to 9-1-1

In 2012, 13% of wireless 9-1-1 calls were hung up before the 9-1-1 center could answer the call. If you accidentally call 9-1-1, stay on the line and tell the call receiver that you do not have an emergency. If you hang up the 9-1-1 center will attempt to call you back to determine if there is an emergency. This process takes valuable time away from answering real emergency calls.

Texting to 9-1-1 will not work

While today’s wireless phones are capable of so much including texting, taking and sending pictures, and videos, playing music, surfing the web, and getting emails, it is only the basic function of the phone that can get you much needed help in an emergency.

The current 9-1-1 system is designed for voice communications only. Other types of data such as text or pictures messages can not be accurately interpreted by this system and therefore can not be directly received by a 9-1-1 call center.

For information on the upgrade of the 9-1-1 system in order to communicate with modern communications devices, visit our Next Generation 9-1-1 System (NG911) page.

When calling 9-1-1 one of the first questions you will be asked will be “What’s your location?”

King County has implemented Phase II Wireless 9-1-1 service as specified by the Federal Communications Commission with all wireless carriers who provide service here. This means that wireless 9-1-1 calls are routed based on the cell site that received the call, not the caller’s exact location, and only your general location may display at the 9-1-1 center. Because of this, it is very important that you know your location and can relay the address, street names, or landmark to the call receiver that answers your 9-1-1 call. A survey done in March 2010 showed that about 17% of people who called 9-1-1 from a wireless phone in King County did not know their location. This can delay response time as the 9-1-1 call receiver attempts to obtain a valid location to be able to send police, fire or medical aid.

As with all 9-1-1 calls, it is important that you stay on the line, unless there is a threat to your safety, and that you answer all of the call receiver’s questions as calmly as possible. Your call may need to be transferred to another agency, depending on your exact location and the nature of your emergency. If your phone loses service during the call or you are disconnected, call 9-1-1 as soon as you are able to re-establish a connection. If the 9-1-1 center has received your phone number, they will also attempt to call you back.

A wireless phone with no active service can still call 9-1-1

Wireless phones with no active service can still call 9-1-1, as long as they have battery power. However, be aware that limited information will be available to the 9-1-1 center, and if you are disconnected the 9-1-1 center will not be able to call you back.

There are serious problems with 9-1-1 centers receiving repeated calls from children playing with de-activated wireless phones. These calls tie up 9-1-1 lines so real emergency calls cannot get through. In 2012, 93% of the 9-1-1 calls from de-activated wireless phones were inappropriate calls, including misdials, hang-ups, or harassing calls. To help solve this problem, please do not give your old wireless phones to children to play with.


Please use 9-1-1 responsibly. Call only if you need an emergency response from police, fire or medics. For non-emergencies call your local police or fire department or other appropriate agency.