Accidentally Call 911? Do This!


Three little digits on your phone are always available to dial if you need help: 911. Yet what if a butt dial caused you to contact the police or fire department? You don’t need any assistance and you don’t want to interrupt the dispatcher’s life-saving job by staying on the line. How do you handle a 911 misdial?

If you accidentally dialed 911, do not hang up, explain to the dispatcher that you called by mistake. If you hang up, the dispatcher will call you back. By not answering that call, the dispatcher will send police to your home.

In this article, we’ll explain in detail what you should and shouldn’t do if you butt-dial or misdial 911 on your phone. We’ll also discuss what the ramifications are of accidentally calling 911, so make sure you keep reading! 

What Happens If You Accidentally Call 911?

Although technically police, fire, and EMS are a business, unlike many businesses, they’re open 24/7, 365 days a year. It doesn’t matter if you call 911 at four o’clock in the morning or midnight, you can always expect a dispatcher to be on the line ready to take your call.

That dispatcher is available whether you intentionally dial 911 or do so accidentally. 

There are plenty of reasons why misdials happen. Perhaps you meant to call a southeastern Georgia phone number, which begins with area code 912. Maybe you were sitting on your phone and your butt had a mind of its own and dialed those three digits. 

What’s going to happen now that you’ve accidentally called 911? The same thing as what would occur if you called intentionally: the dispatcher is going to answer. 

What Should You Do If You Accidentally Dial 911? 

As soon as you hear those words, “911, what’s your emergency?” you’re going to panic. Of all the numbers you could have misdialed, why did it have to be 911? 

Take a deep breath and get your bearings. How you handle the situation now can prevent it from getting more embarrassing in a couple of minutes. Here’s what you should do:

Don’t Hang Up

We’ve all misdialed other phone numbers, right? When you hear someone’s voice on the other line that you don’t recognize, you might hang up rather than say anything. This is usually done out of embarrassment. 

If that’s your first inclination when you realize you’ve misdialed 911, please refrain from hanging up. In some situations, someone who’s dialing 911 might not be able to talk for fear of their safety. Thus, when you call and there’s silence on the other line, then the click, click, click because you hung up, the dispatcher isn’t sure if you’re in danger. 

They’re not going to just assume you’re fine, as that’s not what they’ve been trained to do. If it turns out that you were in the middle of an emergency and something happened to you because the dispatcher didn’t follow up, that would be their job on the line. 

If You Do Hang Up, Answer the Call That Comes Back in

Listen, sometimes you don’t think, you just act. Even though you know that you probably shouldn’t have, you hung up on the 911 dispatcher. 

You’re not the first person to do this, and you won’t be the last, probably even on that same day. Dispatchers are used to this, but they’re still obligated to call you back. They must follow up with you to ensure you’re not in danger. 

If you see a number flashing on the phone screen that you don’t recognize and you just hung up after a 911 misdial, answer it. It’s the dispatcher. This time, please don’t hang up. If you do, then the dispatcher is going to assume that there’s an emergency.

You could have fallen and broken your leg. You might be embroiled in a domestic dispute or maybe your house is on fire. Therefore, the dispatcher will send police to your location.

But wait, how does the dispatcher know where you are if you haven’t said a word to them? The dispatcher uses data from your wireless service provider to determine your location. 

So which is more embarrassing, explaining to a 911 dispatcher that you made a mistake or telling the same thing to a police officer who just rolled up to your house or workplace in a squad car? It’s certainly the former.

You don’t want police presence in your life unnecessarily. Your neighbors will think differently of you if they see the police at your house. At work, it would be a catastrophically embarrassing situation that could get you in trouble with your boss. 

Explain Your Situation

Okay, so you’re going to talk to the dispatcher. What do you tell them?

As we said before, they’ll start with the standard dialog of “911, what’s your emergency?” You need to explain that there is no emergency and that you misdialed 911. You might say something like, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to call 911.”

The dispatcher will probably ask for some identifying information from you such as your first and last name as well as your address. Answer these questions readily. The dispatcher having this information doesn’t mean they’re going to send the police to your location, don’t worry. It’s just for the dispatcher’s own records. 

Don’t Beat Yourself Up Too Much 

Gosh, you’ve never felt so humiliated in your life. That was so mortifying! Sure, accidentally calling 911 isn’t the makings of what will be a good day, but it happens. Actually, it happens quite a lot.

A news station in Pennsylvania mentions that, in Cambria County, out of every six calls their police force gets, one is a misdial. UpNorthLive in Michigan reports that per day, their police force receives 30 misdials. Monthly, it’s 900 accidental 911 calls and yearly, it’s 10,000 calls.

That’s a lot of misdials! You’re far from alone in making this mistake. If the police didn’t come to your home or office, then it’s no harm, no foul. Try to forget about the incident and move on with your day.

Even if the police did have to show up, then sure, it’s going to be embarrassing, but you should also be grateful. This situation proves how efficient the police are at getting to a potential crime scene quickly so they can save lives. 

Do You Get Charged for Accidentally Calling 911?

Maybe you’ve heard a story of someone being fined for misdialing 911 and now you’re worried that’s going to happen to you. Your parents might have told you that as a kid to keep you from playing with the phone, but it isn’t true. 

As the last section proves, 911 misdials are a common occurrence. Police dispatchers know that misdials happen and anticipate it every time they go into work. If you calmly explain to the dispatcher that you didn’t mean to call 911, then you’ll be off the phone quickly with no police involved. 

Yes, the call will be logged as part of the dispatcher’s Computer Aided Dispatch or CAD system if your local police force uses such a system. CAD tracks a person’s history of 911 calls as well as the address of the call and what the reason for the call was. 

The CAD system helps the dispatcher do their job better. Your accidental call will be added, but if you ever have to call 911 again for a true emergency, you won’t be refused help because of a misdial that happened one time. 

Dispatchers might ask you more questions before deploying police if you’re a common misdialer. You’d still be able to get police assistance though and you wouldn’t be charged. It’s the police’s job to help anyone who needs it. CAD systems just tell dispatchers who might really need help versus those who might not. 

Is 911 the Same in Every State?

If you’re in the United States and you need to contact the police in the event of a real emergency, you can always safely dial 911. That’s even true of Canada as well as other parts of the world such as:

  • US Virgin Islands
  • Turks and Caicos 
  • Tuvalu
  • Solomon Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • Guatemala
  • Fiji
  • El Salvador
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Costa Rica
  • The Cayman Islands
  • Bolivia
  • Bermuda
  • The Bahamas
  • Aruba

Three-digit numbers to contact emergency services such as the police, firefighters, and ambulance are used in other parts of the world, but those digits are not 911. Here are some examples of other three-digit emergency numbers:

  • Venezuela – 171
  • United Kingdom – 112 or 999 
  • United Arab Emirates – 998 or 999
  • Turkey – 100 for police, 102 for fire, and 101 or 112 for ambulance
  • Thailand – 191 for police or ambulance, 199 for fire
  • Switzerland – 117 for police, 118 for fire, and 144 for ambulance
  • Sweden – 112
  • Spain – 112
  • Saudi Arabia – 997 for ambulance, 998 for fire, and 999 for police
  • Russia – 112
  • Philippines – 117 or 166
  • Norway – 110 or 112
  • New Zealand – 111
  • Mexico – 060 for police, 065 for ambulance, and 068 for fire
  • Japan – 110 for police and 119 for fire and ambulance
  • Italy – 112 or 113 for police, 112 or 115 for fire, and 112 or 118 for ambulance
  • Iceland – 112
  • Hong Kong – 999
  • Greece – 100 or 112 for police, 112 or 166 for ambulance, and 112 or 199 for fire
  • Germany – 110 for police and 112 for ambulance and fire
  • France – 15 or 112 for ambulance, 17 or 112 for police, and 18 or 112 for fire
  • Denmark – 112
  • China – 110 for police, 119 for fire, 120 for ambulance, and 122 for traffic accidents reported to police

Tips for Preventing Accidental 911 Calls

One time was enough for you to never want to call 911 again unless you have a good reason to (and hopefully, you won’t!). Here are some tips that will prevent misdials not only to 911, but to friends, family, and colleagues too. 

Know How Your Devices Work

Not all 911 misdials occur on your phone, but on other tech that can make and receive calls as well such as an Apple Watch or a tablet. You should understand how these devices work and what causes them to make phone calls, especially emergency calls.

For instance, did you know that if you tap your iPhone’s side button five consecutive times, your phone will automatically connect you to 911? So if you’re fumbling with your phone’s snooze alarm, you could start your morning with an accidental call to 911!

Remove 911 from Your Call History

We’ve all had a case of clumsy fingers where we went to call someone from our call history but tapped on someone else’s name or phone number instead. That’s also a great way to accidentally call 911.

If you just talked to a 911 dispatcher on an accidental call, delete that call from your phone logs. This way, the next time you want to call your best buddy or your grandma, you don’t end up on the phone with 911 again. 

Lock Your Phone When Not in Use 

Butt dials are inconvenient no matter who you call. If you’re the recipient of a butt dial, you can hear the other person on the line but they don’t hear you because they don’t even realize they called someone. You hang up out of frustration and text your buddy to let them know that they’re making butt calls again.

By locking your phone when you’re not using it and requiring a password or even facial recognition to unlock it, these butt dials will become mostly a thing of the past. 

Don’t Store Your Phone in Your Pocket

Another way to prevent unwanted misdials is to stop stashing your phone just anywhere, especially in your pocket. Buy a holster and keep your phone there. It will be right by your side but not dialing everyone in your contacts list like it does when it’s in your pocket. 

Accidental 911 calls happen all the time, so don’t feel bad if you butt-dialed the police. Explain to the dispatcher your error and be willing to answer some questions so you can prevent the police from arriving at your location! 

People Also Ask:

Does 911 always call back?

Dispatchers at 911 centers are supposed to call back if the caller hangs up. They do this to make contact with the caller in case there is an emergency.

What happens if you call 911 but don’t say anything?

Dispatchers will do their best to make contact with you if you call and do not say anything. They may stay on the line for a few minutes to listen for breathing or background noise. If they still do not hear anything they may hang up and call back the number that dialed 911 in order to make contact with the caller.

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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