Can you eMail 911?


Oh, sorry – you wanted a longer post? Here goes….

I was recently asked ‘can you eMail 911’? My first reaction was to explain that the 911 call system is for emergencies like, for example, doing CPR on a child. Perhaps stopping to compose an eMail wasn’t entirely practical at the point you need to get help.

 Then I started to wonder, ‘What if….?’

What if…. you’re the first aid attendant in the workplace, you work with computers and have your eMail open at all times. The person next to you has a heart-attack. Perhaps if you were very efficient and included all the relevant information you might be able to send an eMail.

What if…. you’re at home, on Facebook, Twitter (following @sea2sky_safety of course), or eMailing friends and you hear a crash. Your spouse goes to investigate and finds your child has fallen and injured themselves (and needs an ambulance). Could you send an eMail?

Call 911

Still the trainer in me says ‘No, you have to call for help,’ but what if…. What if I’m out of touch? I had to ask the people who know. (And I’m glad to say I was right.)

Disclaimer type thing…

Note that the information below comes from the helpful people at eComm. They provide the 911 coverage for Sea 2 Sky (including Sunshine Coast) & Metro Vancouver. Outside of this, the answer could theoretically vary – although I doubt it.

“Emailing 911 is not an option for contacting emergency services for a variety of technical and operational reasons. For example, data networks don’t have the built-in reliability of the 911 voice network, and operationally, we need to gather personal information with real-time interaction amongst other things.” – eComm Director of Communications (Personal eMail, June 2011)

What does that mean?

Well – have you ever sent an eMail and have it eventually bounce back? I know I have. Usually several days later, after the computers have been trying to communicate for a while, you get a message that says something like “So Sorry it didn’t work out. Here’s a copy of the original eMail you sent.

What if… that happened for a 911 eMail? You send the message and wait. You probably wait a while longer. You send another message. After 10 minutes (while your kid still isn’t breathing) you give up and find the phone. You still have to call 911. The day after your child gets out of hospital, you get the bounced message in your in-box. Not good.

Or what if…. in a hurry, you eMail to ‘922’ in error (in whatever imaginary eMail address we’re using)? On the phone, you’d know about that pretty quickly. Not necessarily true on eMail. Could be you send the message again – and in re-sending it, you make the same error. Eventually, you have to pick up the phone. Still not good.

Or what if…. There is an eMail address of some sort, and you get through, and you manage to send them all the information they need, but in a typo you send them to “30021 Your St” instead of “40021”? Somewhere, there’s an ambulance crew knocking on a door and someone’s granny saying “eMail dear? What’s that?” What, you hope the ambulance crew will send you a quick eMail to check? And you’ll be sat watching for just such an eMail, instead of doing the First Aid I taught you? Really, still not good!

And what if…. OK, you get the idea.


Remember that if you call 911 from a land line, the address of the property is displayed to the 911 dispatcher. It confirms what you tell them. This wouldn’t work on eMail. They get enough hoax calls without getting spamed too. (And yes, this does become an issue if you try to Skype or otherwise VoIP your 911/EMS system.)

So what if you can’t actually call 911?

Well, E-Comm can accept 9-1-1 calls from the hearing impaired through TTY (telephone typewriter) units. There’s more information right here.

Finally, remember it’s called the Emergency system for a reason – no non-emergency calls please. Dispatch does not want to do your math homework.

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at Squamish General Hospital as the pharmacist manager when not busy training safety
This entry was posted in CCEFA, CPR, News, WEFA. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Can you eMail 911?

  1. Pingback: Can I text 9-1-1? | Safety un-Limited

  2. Pingback: First Aid – a Blog Round-up | Safety un-Limited

  3. Sojorishi Kalistogati says:

    what is I have a burglar in my home and I am hiding in my office in the dark unnoticed while they are terrorizing the rest of my family unbeknownst that I am in teh rom on a different floor? Why can’t I at least chat with someone through my very apparent IP address? I might not have my phone handy, but be online. Is this something so difficult to imagine?

    • Charo Narciza says:

      Pretty much exactly what I was about to post. Not everyone has a phone attached to their hip or phone in every room every hour of the day. Anything can happen at anytime.

  4. Pingback: Social Media in an Emergency | Safety un-Limited

  5. annie bell says:

    I agree with Sojorishi.

    • Tony Howarth says:

      And you both might be able to if, as Sojorishi say’s you ‘chat’ – using VoIP or something similar. Just remember it might not be easy to check your IP (which can change) with your address. Which is also true with cell/mobile phones. Calling from a land line has that advantage.

  6. Gigolo says:

    And it seriously didn’t occur to you that there may be a ton of situations where you had a phone or a computer available (connected to outside world, of course) and you cannot talk, and you can secretly send a message for help? Would you really have to send such message to a bunch of friends, asking them to call 911 (provided you have their numbers/addresses available or memorized), or could you simply email or SMS 911? Of course every sane person would call rather than email or SMS in situations you described (you’re such a moron, btw), but in hostage situations and a bunch of others) I can imagine that it’s possible that a victim can type but not talk.

    • Tony Howarth says:

      Hey, nice of you to comment!

      Of course it occured to me that there would be times when you couldn’t talk.
      The main points still remain:

      • Your ‘secret’ message still might not get through
      • You still might type the email address incorrectly
      • You could tell them the wrong address (or whatever) to go to.

      In fact in a hostage situation (or some other time when you can’t talk like
      Sojorishi says above) you might be under more stress and be more likely to give inaccurate information. I guess that seriously didn’t occur to you.

      The thing is, this is about what’s possible now (in BC) – not about what might be possible in the future or what we’d like to be possible. And yes, our local 9-1-1 dispatch did read it & agree.

  7. Ben says:

    This calls for a proxy service that translates text into a voice-recording, calls 911, plays it to them, and sends back the delivery confirmation to the SMS/email sender.

  8. Paul says:

    Of course there might be a situation. I have a surveillance camera downstairs. It would be easier to email or text the address of the camera w/ password than try to explain it on a phone. I am typing on my tablet right now and don’t have a phone with me but I can text and email. If someone broke into my home I can get to my computer and firearms but not a phone easily

    • Tony Howarth says:

      I can see this getting even more possible as GPS becomes more common in various devices. We may one day get there!

      • Paul says:

        The problem with GPS is it usually requires being outside as it is satellite controlled. In fact, many cars are set up to send a text if you are in a car accident. Wouldn’t it be great when one of these horrific school shootings takes place for someone to text pictures of what is going on and not just call in the SOS?

        • Tony Howarth says:

          Hmmm…. I guess it depends on the building/environment too. My GPS is usually pretty good in the house, but then it can never get very far from a window. I guess I can see situations where the satellites would have no chance.

          It would be good to ‘stream’ those school events – much more effective

          • paul says:

            IP addresses can change unless they are static but at any given time an IP address is routable (the one you text or email from) which means the technology exists to pinpoint it in a second. A simple trace route on the IP shows who leases the IP at that time and where they are from. Just like when you dial 911 and your address shows up on the switchboard at the same time so could the address of an IP. It really is that simple. If it were a threat in the form of a text to a government official they would be knocking on your door in a matter of minutes. So why would that not apply to the rest of us?

          • Tony Howarth says:

            True enough and while it’s possible to spoof IP addresses in the case of a threat as you say I’m sure they’d be checking it out anyway.

            I guess it’s still the $$ more than anything.

  9. Paul says:

    And don’t anyone dare say the technology isn’t there yet. It is $$$$$.

  10. Paul says:

    I contacted my local police department here in MA, USA and was told the 911 system is a telephone communication system only. I was curious. My concern is suppose I am home and I only have my laptop in front of me and need to contact 911 because I hear someone breaking into my home. What do I do? If my phone is not handy I am screwed. With my laptop I can find a place to hide etc. Obviously I know enough people that I could text a family members phone and tell them to call 911 for me but ther ability to hide in a closet with my laptop and have a text conversation going with the police as they arrive at my home would be wonderful. And at, say, 3 AM I may not be able to contact anyone if someone breaks in!!

  11. jake says:

    What if your phones broken and you can’t get to another but your computer happens to be in your lap? This happened to me yesterday – I’m still waiting for a new phone after my old one’s screen got broken. I had a break in, the robbers were armed, and I was in the basement browsing the internet, I couldn’t make the call or get out so I ended up hiding in a secret cabinet where my water line comes into the house.

  12. Dale Raby says:

    I work in a small gun shop. Recently, I had a thief in attempting to sell me a stolen gun. I needed to call the police without “tipping off” the suspect. I emailed a detective I knew, but got an “out of office” reply immediately after. I called 911 and talked nonsense to the operator until she finally figured out that I had an emergency and sent half the cops in town with automatic weapons and tactical gear. By the time they arrived, I had my revolver in my hand and their suspect on his knees waiting for the police who arrested him without incident. Had I been able to reach a 911 email operator, if such a thing exists, I’d have been able to give them further information and they might have been able to set up an ambush and take the convicted felon suspect outside the store. It worked out OK, but there are a thousand ways it could have gone horribly wrong.

  13. Bev Breckon says:

    I am in a situation now where I have left my cell phone (only phone I have) at my friends, who lives one hour away. My only form of communication is through my computer. I am a senior, and if I had an emergency, it would be nice to be able to contact 911 somehow. I’m not sure why this scenario doesn’t happen frequently…phones left at work, etc.

  14. breiley says:

    i think you shoud have one what if you did not have a phone.

  15. paul says:

    It is 2 am and you are typing on your computer in the bedroom. All of a sudden you hear a crash and you realize someone just broke into your home downstairs. Both your landlines and cell phone are downstairs. There should be an email option to the police similar to 911. Suppose it is the 1 in 100 emails that bounces. You are still in a better position than the inability to do nothing. If you are only catching up on emails there may be no one awake. You just need to give your address in the email but the system does not exist.

  16. Derrisha says:

    What if someone is being kid napped and cant talk on the phone or being robbed and the fastest way to contact police is to email or text think about it everyone have cell phones now including kids?????

  17. Derrisha says:

    What if someone is being kidnapped or rubbed in they still have there cell phone they should be able to email or text the police because they cant talk????

  18. Diya says:

    I have a question dont know who to talk to.. a man hang my door bell at 1 30am in da morning.. when he saw me he left. Im feeling uneasy about all this he looked all wrong.

    • Tony Howarth says:

      Hard to say what’s best from the other side of a blog. Have you talked to your neighbours? Have they seen the same? Can/do y’al look out for each other? Is it something you think the police need to know about?

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