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Your Phone's 911 Capabilities

What is your phone's 911 capabilities? 

911 can be dialed from landlines, cell phones, VoIP, TDD machines and cell phones with no service but the information the dispatcher will receive varies depending on your device.

911 is NOT as seen on TV... sometimes we don't know where you are!


Calls from landline phones will display the name the phone is registered to, address, phone number and a map of the location. Although this information comes up on a computer screen at the time of the call, you will be asked to verify the information. Because humans input the information, it is susceptible to human error. If you have recently moved it takes time to update in the system. Also, calls from businesses with several offices and phone numbers often will not display the exact location or office that dialed 911.

Text to 911

Call if you can, text if you can’t. Winnebago County and most other Iowa counties are now equipped to receive text to 911 from some cell phone carriers. If you are not able to talk because you are in danger of alerting someone that you are contacting 911, remember to silence your phone before you send your text to 911. Send your location first along with any other information on keeping you safe as we send help. Text to 911 is new technology, location information may or may not be associated with a text message to 911.

Cell Phones Without Service

Cell phones that have no service can still dial 911, which can be a godsend to someone in an emergency, however, these phones have caused the number of erroneous 911 calls to increase dramatically. Please take out the battery before giving them to children to play with! When a 911 call comes in on one of these phones the display will give the cell tower location and a tracking number. Our dispatchers and officers waste a lot of resources and time checking out these 911 calls.


Voice over Internet Protocol or VOIP phones that use the internet to make the call vary depending on the service provider. Check with your provider to see how 911 will work for you. Remember to keep your address up to date with your provider. Even if your phone is able to call 911, the address that will display on the 911 screen will be the address you have registered to the account. If you move, your address will not necessarily change with you. Make sure your provider has your current information. When you are traveling with a VOIP phone your 911 call will ring in to the answering point of your address. For instance if you live in Forest City and travel to Florida, the 911 call will be answered in Forest City regardless of your location.

TDD Machines & Real Time Text

Winnebago County’s system can receive 911 calls from TDD Machines which are used by the hearing or speech impaired. Similar to an instant message chat box, our 911 system displays the text the caller is typing, as well as the text the dispatcher is typing back. TDD machines use a landline phone and will display the callers name, address and phone number the same way a voice landline call would display. Real Time Text is an option in the settings of most smartphones and allows callers the same ability to type their message to 911 as a TDD machine, this method, being the cellular version will not display the callers name and address and the location may or may not be accurate.



Both Android and iPhones have crash detection and emergency SOS features that have the potential to trigger false 911 calls. When these features are triggered an alarm may sound, and a countdown timer will appear on the phone to give the user the ability to cancel. If you don't cancel the countdown, the phone will call 911. Phone settings can be changed or turned off depending on the phone. 

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