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What Would I Do… If 911 Didn’t Answer?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if 911 didn’t answer?  Unfortunately, it’s pretty likely that in the last 5-8 years 911 service or your telephone service has experienced some type of outage.  If you were lucky, you didn’t need 911 during those outages – but what if you did?  The voice and data systems that provide wireline and wireless services to consumers and the 911 system form a complex network that supports your 911 call from the device you call from all the way through to the 911 call taker – we like to refer to this continuum of service as “from call maker to call taker”.

With so many providers, networks, hardware and software playing a part in your phone call to 911 it’s not surprising that there might be an outage of some sort.  Who is affected and what services are affected can be very difficult to isolate and identify – and this is where you come in.  Depending on the circumstance you may have different options.  Below we identify some options for you to try depending on the circumstance:

If you have an emergency and reach for your phone to call 911 and don’t have a dial tone or are unable to make the call –  what can you do? 

  • Ask someone else to call on a different line or device / phone.  Your phone may be damaged or out of service, so asking another person to try can help identify if the issue is isolated to you.
  • Use a different service provider to make the call.  If your cell phone can’t get through, try your landline.  Or ask your friend or coworker, who has a different cell phone provider, to make the call.  Sometimes one provider is having an issue, but others aren’t.
  • Try texting to 911.  Sometimes a voice call won’t work, but a text will.

If you have an emergency but when you call 911 it rings but no one ever answers – what can you do?

  • Don’t hang up!  Remember that our 911 call takers and dispatchers can get very busy and while we prioritize incoming 911 calls as the first ones to answer, you may have to wait.  Our telephone system is designed to put you into a queue if we are unable to answer the phone at around 45 seconds.  You will hear a message if this happens.  Hold on the line and wait for the call taker to pick up.  I know it seems like a long time, but trust us, we are doing the very best we can.

If you have an emergency but when you call 911 you hear ringing for a minute or so, this may be a situation where your phone is ringing but the call actually hasn’t made it into the 911 center.  Sometimes service providers will play a ring sound to you even when the call isn’t ringing here at the 911 center.  What can you do?

  • Try the steps above:  ask someone else to call, try a different service provider, or text 911.

If you have an emergency and all the above fails – what can you do?

  • Call our ten digit emergency number – 360-696-4461.  We have a restricted number of calls we can take at one time on this line, so you could hear a busy signal when you call.
  • Call 311.  Remember 311 is our non-emergency line, but these calls are delivered on a different network than our 911 calls, so if 911 is down we may be able to receive calls on 311.
  • Call the ten digit equivalent to 311 – 360-693-3111.  Sometimes the 311 short code doesn’t work for certain areas or certain providers.  If you can’t get through dialing 311 you can try the ten digit line instead.

Did you notice how all of the circumstances above started with “if you have an emergency”?  If you would like help determining what is an emergency check out our post: When To Call.

But if you call 911 and can’t get through or don’t get an answer and it’s not an emergency, try again later.  We may have experienced a really high volume of calls due to traffic accidents, fires, or other major events.  Waiting 30 minutes or more can help relieve the demand on the center during those high volume events. 

Whenever you experience any type of service outage, check with your service provider, news outlets, and social media for up to date information.  For notifications about events here at CRESA follow us on Facebook , NextDoor, and @CRESATalk on Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to also sign up for emergency notifications at Clark Public Alerts.

In the complex world of voice and digital networks we can assume there will be outages, we hope this can be a resource for you to be prepared so you will know what to do should you need us but can’t reach us.

Here at CRESA and even your service provider might not be aware of an outage when it first occurs. Once there is awareness, we most likely don’t have an accurate description of the outage and its impacts right away.

By Katy Myers, ENP

Technical & Suupport Division Manager, CRESA

Public Alert Link

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