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How to use 9-1-1

Picture showing a BOEC dispatcher.
Learn how to use 9-1-1, whether it's via cell phone, landline, text or VoIP. Interpreters/translators are available.
On this page

By cell phone / smartphone

When to call 9-1-1

If your cell phone dials 9-1-1 and you hang up, there is a good chance the call still went through to the call center. This means 9-1-1 may be notified that a call came from your cell phone number and will attempt to call you back to find out whether you have an emergency or not. There are times when these types of calls do not make it to the 9-1-1 center so do not hang up.

Roughly 87% of all 9-1-1 calls in Multnomah County are made from cell phones. Cell phone calls provide 9-1-1 calltakers with your phone number and an approximate location of where your call is coming from. Location accuracy can vary from 50 to 300 meters in any direction and in some cases, no location is received. Cell phone calls are routed based on a triangulation of the nearby cell towers. As a result, you may end up calling the wrong 9-1-1 center. The calltaker you speak with should be able to transfer you to the appropriate 9-1-1 center.

Cell service is unpredictable and your call may be disrupted abruptly. If this happens, dial 9-1-1 immediately. If you are using an old cell phone that does not have service, we are unable to call you back. You MUST dial 9-1-1 again. When dialing 9-1-1 from a cell phone while driving, be sure to stop your vehicle if it is safe to do so. It is difficult to obtain the necessary information if you are moving further away from the emergency. If you are being followed or chased, be sure to stay in the area so responding officers can find you. Consider driving around the block. The 9-1-1 calltaker can help coordinate the officers locating you.

When in a public area, be aware of those around you who may be calling 9-1-1 to report the same incident as you. 9-1-1 can get inundated with calls reporting the same situation. If you know someone else is calling 9-1-1, do not call yourself unless you have additional information that no one else has. If possible, coordinate with the other caller to let you talk with the 9-1-1 Calltaker when they are finished. When 9-1-1 is inundated with calls reporting the same incident (e.g., an injury crash on the freeway, a fight in a public location, etc.), other callers to 9-1-1 may have to wait on hold to report their own unrelated emergency incident.

By landline

When to call 9-1-1

9-1-1 calls placed from a landline telephone are routed directly to the 9-1-1 center. The 9-1-1 calltaker receives the billing information for your landline telephone, which consists of the resident’s name, address, and telephone number. Calltakers will still ask you to confirm this information as some residents have their telephone bill sent to a different address. In those situations, the information 9-1-1 receives is not the location you are calling from. Contact your telephone provider to see about updating this information so it presents correctly to 9-1-1. 

If you have the option of calling from a landline phone or a cell phone, the landline phone provides more information about your location and may have a better reception than your cell phone. However, your cell phone may be more convenient in case you need to move, go near a patient requiring medical aid, etc. The most important thing is to know the location where help is needed.

Via text messaging

When to text 9-1-1

Call if you can, text if you can’t. 

NOTE: Texting 911 is slower than calling 911 because of the time it takes to send questions and receive answers.

To report an emergency using Text-to-911:

  • Go to your cell phone text messaging screen / messaging app
  • Enter "911" (with no dashes or spaces) in the "TO" field
  • Type your message
  • Hit "SEND"

Over VoIP

When to call 9-1-1

Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP) phone service is an alternative to a traditional landline phone. It is important that you understand the potential issues when dialing 9-1-1. If you have a VoIP phone and dial 9-1-1, you may not connect with your local 9-1-1 center. Contact your service provider to ensure they have your correct address information. This will ensure your call is routed to the appropriate 9-1-1 center. If you do not do this, your call may be answered by a national call center, which is located in Canada. They should be able to transfer your call to the appropriate 9-1-1 center, but the delay just might be the difference between life and death. If you move and maintain your VoIP phone, contact your service provider to update your information promptly. It is important to be familiar with your service providers procedures for updating your address. 

If your power is out or your internet connection is down, your VoIP phone service may not work. Consider having a cell phone as a backup.

Interpreter / Translator Needed

We utilize Language Link for over-the-phone interpretation services. Language Link is available 24/7, connects within seconds and provides a state-of-the-art call center with high quality interpreters. They offer interpreters for more than 240 languages and dialects. All Language Link interpreters hold a professional certification, have at least two years of professional interpreting experience, and sign a confidentiality agreement. 

Many cultures mistrust or fear law enforcement (police). Many people in various cultures grew up in an environment where local authorities were not always working in the public's best interests, and they bring those fears with them to the United States. In some cases, the immigration status may influence whether someone calls 9-1-1 due to fears (real or assumed) of deportation. Callers to 9-1-1 may be reluctant to provide their full name, date of birth, address, and other personal information and may not understand why this information is necessary. They may become suspicious and even uncooperative, which can slow down emergency response times.

If you or someone you know does not speak English, dial 9-1-1 and advise the Calltaker what language you speak. It helps us if you are able to tell us the language you speak in English. We also encourage people to learn how to say the type of help they need (e.g., police, fire, medical, Portland Street Response) and their address. If nothing else, we can start emergency responders with that limited information while we conference the call with an interpreter. As we conference in an interpreter, the caller may hear some clicking sounds or even a ringing sound. It is important to remain on the line and do NOT hang up. 

Once an interpreter is on the line, please answer each of their questions concisely and allow them to talk with the 9-1-1 Calltaker. The calltaker will process the information into a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and relayed to a dispatcher, who dispatches the appropriate responders. Calltakers may keep you on the line to obtain additional information for the responders. Responders can be started while the Calltaker is still asking you questions. Answering questions does NOT delay the response.

Language Link is available for non-emergency calls, as well. Dial the Non-Emergency Number, press one at the recording, and wait for a Calltaker to come on the line. Remember, whether you call 9-1-1 or Non-Emergency, stay calm and answer all of the Calltakers questions. Speak slowly and clearly and provide short answers. Lastly, help can be started in emergency situations while you are still talking with a 9-1-1 calltaker.