Frequently Asked Questions     

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General Questions

What is 911?

To give the people of St. Mary Parish one easily remembered number to dial in case of emergencies, the St. Mary Parish Communication District installed the 911 emergency telephone number. An emergency is any threat to life or property or a crime in progress. For example, a heart attack, a fire, and a fight in which someone could be seriously hurt are all emergencies. Such things as a burglary that happened while you were gone, a barking dog, and a burned out fire or a scheduled ride to the hospital or nursing home are not considered emergencies. To find out more information or to report one of these less urgent situations, call the 7-digit telephone numbers of police, fire and ambulance services listed in the white pages of your local telephone book.

A good question to ask yourself before calling 911 is, "Could someone's life or property be saved or could a criminal be caught more easily if I called now instead of waiting a few hours?" If you think the answer is "yes" then call 911. If it is "no" dial the local number for fire, police or ambulance services.

What happens when you dial 911?

When you dial 911 an operator will answer, "911, where is your emergency?" If calling from a wireline (home or business phone), the telephone company records give the number and address of the caller and are flashed onto a computer screen in front of the operator. As completely, clearly and calmly as you can, describe what happened. The operator will ask you to repeat the address to which you want a police car, fire truck, or ambulance to be sent. He or she will get as much information from you as possible about what the policemen, firemen or paramedics can expect to find when they arrive.

It is important, if at all possible, for the caller to explain what has happened. Even though the telephone number and location are flashed on the screen, if no one stays on the line to tell what has happened, the operator may suspect a false alarm and will try to call the number back. Because she or he will be unsure whether to send a fire truck, police car or ambulance, the time it takes the appropriate emergency vehicle to get there will be slower. Also, the number and address that flash on the screen are only as good as telephone company records. To prevent the possibility of going to the wrong address, please be prepared to describe exactly what happened and where it happened.

Please remember that 911 is only an emergency telephone number. It does connect you quickly with police, fire, and medical operators, but it does not guarantee on-the-scene emergency vehicles. The speed with which someone arrives depends on the urgency of the situation you describe and the availability of resources at the time.

What happens when someone dials 911 as a prank?

In the first place it is a crime to knowingly give a false report of a crime, fire, or medical emergency. If you are caught doing so, you can be arrested and fined or imprisoned. Because the enhanced 911 system does show the number and the address from which the call came, it is possible to trace false alarm calls.

Secondly, if the operator is unable to determine whether or not the call is a real emergency, a police car will be sent to the address. Then, if a real emergency happens somewhere else, there would be fewer cars available to handle it. Such unnecessary calls cost taxpayers money and could cost property and lives. For the safety of everyone, don't hesitate to call 911 in an emergency, but don't do so for fun.

Why must I pay for 911 when I've never used it?

A surcharge on monthly telephone bills was approved to fund the 911 equipment and operations. As with any other tax, such as social security or taxes for defense, we all pay so that the system will be there when we need it. You may have never used 911 yet and we hope you never have to, but your regular payment insures that 911 will be there for you if you do need it.

Why did no one answer immediately when I called?

During busy periods a call going into a 911 answering center falls in line behind others coming before it. Calls are then answered in the order in which they are received. 911 calls are usually answered with seconds. It is important to stay on the line until your call is answered. If you hang up and call back you will lose your place in line. Experts have found that when you are under stress a few seconds can seem much longer. Just so you will be able to judge how long it takes, a phone usually rings at the rate of 10 times per minute.

How do the deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired persons use Enhanced 911?

Enhanced 911 equipment has TTY capability and is ADA compliant. If the equipment detects TTY tones, it will automatically switch to TTY mode and immediately send out a greeting to the caller. The equipment can be manually switched to TTY mode with a keystroke, which facilitates the testing of silent calls.

Can I call 911 from a pay phone?

Yes. No coin is required to call 911 from a pay phone.

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Wireless/Cellular Questions

Does 911 work from my cell phone?

Yes, all cell phones companies doing business in Louisiana have activated 911 dialing.

When I call 911 from my cell phone will the operators know where I am?

Cell phones cannot give your exact location like a traditional phone does. Try to have your address ready, or use landmarks, mile markers and road signs to describe where you are.

What is Phase I 911 service?

Phase I is a requirement of the Federal Communications Commission for wireless phone companies to provide the address of the cell tower that processes a 911 call and the call back number of the cell phone to the Public Safety Answering Point.

What is Phase II 911 service?

Phase II is a requirement of the Federal Communications Commission for wireless phone companies to provide an approximation of the 911 callers location in the form of latitude and longitude.

How do I know if my cell phone is Phase II capable?

You should check with your cell phone provider to find out if the handset you are currently using is compatible with their Phase II Enhanced 911 solution. Many older phones do not have this capability.

If my cell phone company has finished Phase II, will dispatchers know where I am when I call?

Possibly. The accuracy of the latitude and longitude can vary depending on the signal strength of your phone in relation to the tower that transmits your call. Also, you need to be using a phone compatible with the Phase II solution of your wireless carrier. The more information you can provide the dispatcher about where you are, the faster we'll find you.

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VoIP Questions

Can I dial 911 from my VoIP phone?

You can reach emergency assistance by dialing 911 on most VoIP phones. However, there are important differences between some VoIP 911 emergency dialing and traditional 911 service from a standard phone. Sometimes the 911 call taker may not have a display of the number you are calling from or your location. In addition, your call may arrive at a remote private call center if there is confusion over your location.

How do I know what level of 911 service I have with my VoIP phone?

The best way to find out is to research the features of your VoIP provider as it pertains to 911 on its web site. Search for "emergency calling." Once you know its features, you should notify all potential phone users, including frequent visitors and babysitters.

How is a VoIP 911 call routed to the correct 911 center?

When you sign up for VoIP service, you are asked to register your location. For a 911 call to go to the right 911 center, it MUST correspond to the physical location of your VoIP phone. This address allows the VoIP provider to route the call to the right place. You cannot use a PO Box or Rural Route address.

Does 911 know where I am when calling from my VoIP phone?

Possibly. No matter where your call routes, the 911 call taker will first ask you to provide or verify your location, name, and telephone number.

Can I call 911 from my VoIP phone while I'm traveling?

Some VoIP providers offer the ability to travel with your phone. If so, the provider should offer a way to update your registered address. The time it takes to update this address varies greatly. The safest thing to do if you travel with your phone is to use another phone to dial 911 if you need help.

Do service outages affect my ability to call 911?

They might. Just as a cordless phone may not work without power, your VoIP phone may not work without power either. As a result, you may be unable to make calls, including those to 911, during an electrical outage. Similarly, if your cable or broadband service is interrupted, it may keep you from being able to make outbound calls.

Should I keep my traditional phone line after I subscribe to VoIP service?

Yes, 911 leaders recommend you keep your traditional phone in addition to your VoIP phone in order to ensure you can access 911 services and have access to a phone in a power or service outage.

Will my security monitoring service work with VoIP service?

It might but then it might not. Check with your provider to see if they support analog modem traffic that is needed for burglar alarms and fax machines.

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Addressing Questions

Is enhanced 911 available in towns with "RR Box" addresses?

People without a street address (e.g., 58 Pine Lane) can call 911 for emergencies. They will not benefit from the system's location safety feature until their area completes addressing.

Why is addressing a critical part of Enhanced 911?

A 911 caller's address (stored in the Enhanced 911 system) routes the call to the correct PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), so that emergency services can be dispatched immediately. With the older 911 systems, calls were routed by telephone exchange and did not always reach the correct PSAP. Knowing the emergency caller's address helps dispatchers send emergency service to the scene quickly.

What happens if a 911 caller's address is not correct?

There are procedures that PSAP call takers must follow to report and correct addressing discrepancies after a 911 caller has notified them of the error.

What happens if a person moves?

When you notify your telephone company of a new address, their system will automatically update this change in the Enhanced 911 database.

Street signs keep disappearing in my area, what can I do?

Theft of street signs is against the law and is a problem in many communities. They are a vital part of the 911 system as they allow responders to find callers faster.

If you see someone stealing or vandalizing signs, call 911.

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