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Emergencies Happen — When They Do, Dial 911

No one ever wants to call 911, but in America, people dial 911 more than 250,000 times per day — so it’s safe to assume you will likely need to call 911 at least a handful of times in your lifetime, and possibly while you are here at UW-Madison. Knowing that, it’s important to know what to expect in the moment you need to call.

Can I send a text to 911 if I have an emergency on campus?
Yes. The Dane County 911 Center accepts text calls to 911 from the major cell phone carriers. To use the service, simply type 911 in the “to” field on your cell phone (no spaces or dashes). The call will be directed to the Dane County 911 Center, which will notify the UW-Madison Police Department if a response is necessary on campus.

It is still better to call 911 if at all possible, but if you must to send a text, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Although deactivated cell phones can still CALL 911, they cannot TEXT 911 – you must have a texting plan to use the service.
  2. Provide your location FIRST! The location information from a cell phone is not exact, and it is critical to get your location information to the dispatcher first.
  3. Keep your message clear and brief, but do not use text abbreviations or slang – this may lead to confusion and could delay the emergency response.
  4. Depending on your location, similar to voice cell 911 calls, there is a potential for the message to “bounce” to a 911 center that does not take text messages. If this happens you will get a message indicating text-to-911 is not available. This will also happen if your phone is on roaming in Dane County.
  5. There is no foreign language translation on text-to-911 messages.
  6. Currently, photos and videos cannot be sent via text to 911.
  7. Only send the message to 911, do not include any other recipients.

Now that we have VoIP phones on campus, does that change how I call 911?
Yes and no. Calling 911 from your campus office Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone should provide the correct location information to the UWPD Dispatch Center. Using VoIP for your personal phone service can affect your ability to call 911 for emergency services. One of the most important issues is keeping the address you are calling from up-to-date with your service provider. The 911 Center will receive the location you list as your physical address, and if you move (or travel with your VoIP adaptor) but do not update your address, emergency services may be sent to the wrong location. Also, if you lose your internet connection you may also lose the ability to make a phone call. Keeping a backup power supply is recommended. Make sure you understand the potential limitations the technology has regarding accessing emergency services by talking to your service provider or checking their website.

Is calling 911 on my cell phone just like calling from my landline phone?
No. While the technology has improved, calling 911 from a cell phone still does not provide the same location information as calling from a traditional landline phone. Even the latest technology can have a range of a few meters to a few hundred meters when providing location information to the 911 dispatcher. This technology also does not provide altitude information — so while the specific building you are in may be determined, whether you are on the 1st or 5th floor may not.

When calling 911 from a VoIP or landline phone in most university-owned buildings (off-campus buildings may go to Dane County), the call will be answered by the dispatchers at the UW-Madison Police Department. If you call 911 from your cell phone, the call will be answered by the Dane County 911 Center.

One of the most important things to remember when calling 911 is to provide as much location information as you can and stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you it’s OK to hang up. No matter what you are using to access emergency services, remember the most important thing – location, location, location!

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