Can You Call 911 for Someone in Another State?

If you're in California and chatting with your Aunt Sally in Colorado when she suddenly complains of chest pains, can you call 911 for her? The simple answer is "yes," but, as with almost anything having to do with 911 emergency response, it's a bit more complicated than it sounds.

Female paramedic using computer in ambulance while colleague standing in background
 

How 911 Works

Emergency dispatch centers, referred to as public service answering points (PSAPs), are responsible for answering 911 calls and tending to the needs of those in their designated areas.

When you call 911, the call is automatically routed from a regional control center to the PSAP that handles calls in your specific geographical area.

When your call goes through, the dispatcher who answers is likely sitting in the same room as an intermediary who is communicating directly with local paramedics, firefighters, or law enforcement officers. In some cases, the dispatcher may be the sole link between you and the local response team.

So, if you are calling 911 for a loved one in a different state, the call you make only goes to your "local" PSAP. The dispatcher who answers will likely try to help, but there is no guarantee that they will be able to do so effectively.

How 911 Calls Are Transferred

Although you may assume that the 911 dispatcher in your area can easily "patch you through" to the correct PSAP in another, there is currently no intrastate system that works that way. Instead, the dispatcher will use the same tools that you do to find phone numbers in other states: the internet or telephone companies

The dispatcher will first need to find out which county and town your loved one lives in and then locate the 10-digit phone number for that PSAP from the local directory. Only then can the dispatcher transfer the call and connect you with the team who can help.

Even though the local dispatcher may work at breakneck speed to make the transfer, it may still seem like a lifetime to you. As stressful as this can be, it is in your best interest to remain calm and patient, even if they have to place you on hold.

Remember that the one thing that 911 centers have that you don't is a working relationship with telephone companies. This usually results in better cooperation and speedier transfers.

Moreover, many PSAPs—especially those in large urban centers—have standard operating procedures for handling calls just like these. In the end, they may not work as fast as you'd like, but they are more likely to get you connected faster if you work with them rather than fighting them.

4 Tips for Faster 911 Response

If you find yourself having to call 911 for someone in a different city or state, there are four things you can do to help the dispatcher help you:

Don't hang up on your loved one.

If you have Aunt Sally on the phone, and there's another phone available, don't tell Aunt Sally that you'll call her back. Keep Aunt Sally on the line, keep her appraised of what's going on, and keep tabs on how she is doing.

Staying connected also allows you to get information about her location rather than having to look it up yourself. You can also pass first aid information from the local 911 office while you are waiting to be transferred.

Know where the emergency is happening.

The 911 dispatcher will be able to work faster if you provide the address of your loved one—including the city, state, and zip code—along with their telephone number (or numbers). As simple as this may seem, people will often go blank during an emergency.

If Aunt Sally is unable to provide you with her address (and you don't have it yourself), don't panic. The 911 dispatcher still may be able to trace it using a database called the Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identifier (ANI/ALI).

Call 911 from a cell phone.

Some PSAPs have the ability to break into existing conversations through a cell phone line, effectively patching them through directly to Aunt Sally. If Aunt Sally is on a cell phone, they may even be able to locate her to within 50 to 300 yards, depending on the system being used by the wireless provider.

Many, but not all, PSAPs have upgraded their wire capabilities to facilitate this in accordance with requirements from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Plan ahead.

If you are concerned about a loved one in another city or state, call the police department in the town where they and get the 10-digit number of their designated PSAP in case of emergencies.

If an emergency arises, call the 10-digit number instead of 911. It will connect you directly and enable a more immediate response. Be sure to have all of your loved one's information on-hand, including phone numbers and entry security codes.

A Word From Verywell

No one can plan for every emergency, and it's not uncommon to be caught off guard when a loved one calls in distress over the phone. In such instances, it is important to remain as clear and calm as you can when you call 911.

If the dispatcher is overrun with calls (as can sometimes happen), they will be less able to set aside the time to help if you do not communicate the matter clearly, including the nature of the emergency and the age and general health of your loved one.

By helping the dispatcher fully understand the urgency of the situation, they can prioritize your call even if the emergency is not in their location.

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Article Sources
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  1. Goebel M, Dameff C, Tully J. Hacking 9-1-1: Infrastructure vulnerabilities and attack vectors. J Med Internet Res. 2019;21(7):e14383. doi:10.2196/14383

  2. Federal Communications Commission. Indoor location accuracy benchmarks. Updated March 19, 2020.

  3. National 911 Program. Frequently asked questions. In: 911.gov. Updated 2020.