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What happens when I dial 999 in the States?
June 11, 2014 2:12 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I'm in the USA and I dial the UK emergency number (999), or I'm in the UK and I dial the US emergency number (911) or the European number (112). What happens?

Obviously I don't want to try this :)
posted by devnull to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you dialed 999 in the US, nothing would happen. It wouldn't recognize it as special, and it would just wait for you to finish dialing before it tried to do anything.
posted by brainmouse at 2:13 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


In the US, you can try it, you'll get either a recording indicating it's an invalid number, or a busy signal, or, if it happens to be a valid area code, the phone may wait for you to finish. There are some areas where there are other special numbers, like 411 and 611, but they're not emergency-only like 911. I don't know what will happen in the UK.
posted by ubiquity at 2:16 PM on June 11


I just tried it! I got the "We're sorry, when placing this call it is now necessary to dial an area code and a 7 digit telephone number...." error
posted by thelonius at 2:16 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Here are the other "quick-dial" codes (not all of which work in all locations):
211 - Health and Human Services
311 - Government and non-Emergency Information
411 - Directory Assistance
511 - Traffic & Weather
611 - Customer Support
711 - Telecommunication Relay Service
811 - Call Before You Dig
posted by ubiquity at 2:18 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]


Pretty sure 911 redirects you to 999 when in the UK.
posted by Magnakai at 2:31 PM on June 11


112 is an official emergency number in all of Europe. Including the absurdly parochial part between Ireland and Denmark, and will work from landlines and mobiles in the UK. It will also work from any GSM (i.e. anything with a SIM card) mobile anywhere in the world.

911 works fine from mobiles in the UK, according to someone (a native Brit, and I wasn't sceptical of their memory) I was talking to the other day who had found themselves having dialled it in some emergency.
posted by ambrosen at 2:32 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Other emergency numbers than 112 may also be programmed into a SIM card by the card issuer.
posted by ambrosen at 2:35 PM on June 11


511 - Traffic & Weather

In New York City, this number dials the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
posted by Jahaza at 2:41 PM on June 11


For a while, 999-XXXX was being used for cell phones in the Seattle area. So... nothing much would happen.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:05 PM on June 11


Interesting replies- thanks! If GSM mobile phones treat all of these emergency numbers equally, I wonder why US mobile phones don't do the same?
posted by devnull at 3:14 PM on June 11


911 on a UK phone will usually redirect you to 999/112, i.e. the local emergency services operator. It didn't used to, but because we have so many US TV cop shows this side of the pond, a not insignificant number of people think that's the actual UK number - so it was added to the list of numbers that the networks redirect by mutual agreement some years back.

112 is slowly becoming the universal number worldwide for at least police service, after being adopted as the EU-wide standard; the ITU recommends that countries have their conventional number as well as 112, with either being promoted as the 'main' number. As ambrosen notes, it's part of the GSM standard so pretty much any GSM operator will redirect it to the local police line - while roaming, handset locked, or even without a sim card.

While 999 is unlikely to work in the US, there's plenty of ex-british colonies where it is still the standard number for police and/or ambulance.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:42 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


Anecdote: in Australia, 911 now apparently redirects to 000 (our emergency number) after a few very sad incidents when visitors tried in vain to call for help.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:49 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


Were you to dial *999 in Chicago, you'd get the tow trucks that pull broken-down vehicles off the expressway.
posted by hwyengr at 3:49 PM on June 11


Well, there are 3 different situations in the US: 1) GSM phones, which treat 112 and possibly 999 the same as 911; 2) CDMA phones, which I'm not sure of and may vary by carrier; and 3) landlines, which definitely won't redirect since they have no separate send/call button and thus the only short numbers supported are N11.
posted by ckape at 3:49 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


911 on a UK phone will usually redirect you to 999/112, i.e. the local emergency services operator. It didn't used to, but because we have so many US TV cop shows this side of the pond, a not insignificant number of people think that's the actual UK number - so it was added to the list of numbers that the networks redirect by mutual agreement some years back.

It's the same in Australia - 911 redirects to our emergency number, 000.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:19 PM on June 11


Anecdote: in Australia, 911 now apparently redirects to 000 (our emergency number) after a few very sad incidents when visitors tried in vain to call for help.

Same in New Zealand - you can dial any emergency number (911, 999, 000, 112) and it will go through to our emergency number (111). Because of visitors and also people being familiar with imported police shows (they started by announcing the NZ number at the start of Rescue 911, then changed the title to Rescue 111, then just set up a redirect on 911).
posted by Pink Frost at 4:30 PM on June 11


third word on a random page: "Anecdote: in Australia, 911 now apparently redirects to 000 (our emergency number) after a few very sad incidents when visitors tried in vain to call for help."

Anecdotal aside: it's been randomly available since at least the mid-80's; as an apprentice I did some of the investigation, grading, and marker strapping to enable it in a couple of the tandem exchanges feeding the 000 call centres in Brisbane. It was all done in a very hush-hush fashion - never to be advertised, or even admitted - but was a fallback safety feature due to the influence of "911" from US media.

The limiting factor was always the local exchanges - some could accept 911 as valid & route it appropriately, some could accept it but were not configured to route it for various reasons, and others were simply not capable of accepting "9" as a valid first digit.

I think the last of the "not capable" exchanges was decomissioned in the early 00's, but AFAIK 911 is still not officially admitted or sanctioned to be a valid emergency number - it's a case of "it's not guaranteed to work so we're never going to say it does, and anyone who uses it does so at their own risk".
posted by Pinback at 6:05 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


It's the same in Australia - 911 redirects to our emergency number, 000.

I can personally attest it has been this way for some time. In the late 90s our (American) neighbour called 911 when he saw a fire break out in our yard. It was a small fire and how we did lol.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:14 PM on June 11


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