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Emergency? When to call—or text—9-1-1

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Chances are, calling 9-1-1 for your cat stuck in a tree is not the best use of emergency resources (hint: call the local animal service or tree care service for your pet). However, some people are unaware of what exactly constitutes an emergency.

Yes, the occasional call by a 4-year-old for help with math can be adorable, but being aware of what constitutes an emergency will not only keep lines free for true emergencies, but will also remind you that there may be a better source for your problems (i.e. a tutor for math).

When to call 9-1-1

Contact 9-1-1 to:

  • Save a life
  • Stop a crime
  • Report a fire

If someone has been involved in an incident and is injured, this is another reason to call 9-1-1.

If you’re in a situation where there are several people at the scene, do not assume someone else is calling 9-1-1 — call yourself. If you are calling from a cellular device, be sure to let the call taker know your location so emergency responders can get to you faster.

When to text 9-1-1

Text to 9-1-1, a new service in select areas of Utah, makes it possible for those in need of emergency assistance to send a text message to get help when calling 9-1-1 is not possible. This service will be especially helpful in cases when:

  • The caller cannot communicate verbally due to a hearing or speech impairment
  • The caller is in a situation when a crime is in progress
  • The caller is facing domestic abuse
  • The caller is injured and cannot speak

Sending a text to 9-1-1 is simple — in fact, it is the same as sending a text to your family or friends. If you need to text for help, enter 9-1-1 in the recipient line, type your message, then press send. An emergency dispatcher will receive your text and respond immediately.

Utah Text to 9-1-1

Keep in mind that if you text 9-1-1, it is important to provide your location and the details about your emergency as clearly as possible, just as you would in a phone call. Avoid using abbreviations or “text jargon” as it may cause confusion and may potentially delay emergency response. Remain calm and be prepared to respond to the 9-1-1 call taker who will ask you standard emergency questions via text.

Why and where can I text?

Utah’s efforts to implement text to 9-1-1 service is part of a nationwide initiative by the 9-1-1 industry, wireless carriers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make this service available to the public. In the state, the service is available now in Bountiful along with Weber, Morgan and Salt Lake counties.

Although text to 9-1-1 service is only available in some areas at this time, dispatch centers are busily working to implement this service throughout the state. If text to 9-1-1 service is not currently available in your area, you will receive an automatic “bounce-back” message indicating the service is not yet available, and you will be advised to call emergency authorities.

Please remember that you should always call if you can, text if you can’t. Abusing 9-1-1, whether through text or call, is a serious offense and can result in a fine and potential jail time. You should only contact 9-1-1 to save a life, stop a crime or report a fire. For all other non-emergency situations, please contact the local authorities or visit 911.utah.gov for a list of resources and appropriate contacts.