05 October 2011

Gotten rid of your telephone landline? What about 911 access for your kids? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amazon: Crosley 302 Wall Phone CR55-Brushed ChromeKym needs our help! She asks the phone service question I've never been able to answer myself, which is the reason we still have a landline:

Like a lot of people, my husband and I recently got rid of our land line in favor of using cell phones exclusively.  It has worked out great, until my preschooler had Fire Safety Week at school and I realized I'm not sure how to teach a three year-old how to dial 911 on an iPhone.  

I mean, sure, in theory we could walk through all the steps...but if something really happens, I need that "pick up the phone and dial" convenience.

We have gotten rid of all our old cell phones, so keeping one around that is inactive that will still dial 911 isn't the answer I'm looking for.  

How have other people solved the mobile phone/landline/emergency phone dilemma? 

We still have a landline for three reasons:

  1. I want a backup phone in case of emergency, either for 911 or in case of a natural disaster.
  2. I still want there to be a central point of communication in the house, especially while one of my kids is too young to have her own cell phone. (When/whether kids need cell phones is a whole 'nother topic of conversation we'll get into another time.)
  3. My phone, Internet and cable TV are bundled, and getting rid of the landline didn't make financial sense. (This may not be true in your case; call your phone and/or cable company and ask a bunch of questions.)

Like Kym, I'd love to hear what you're doing phone-wise, and how it's working for your family.

RelatedCo-working parents trade "home" and "work" cell phones

Your comments

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You could keep an old cell phone and charger handy. Even a disconnected cell phone that makes a 911 has to be accepted by the cell carrier.

I don't have a land line or a cell phone. What I do have is Google Voice. I can make calls from my computer for free. I imagine that it would also work well in an emergency situation.

We bought a cheap prepaid phone and tied it to a google voice number (along with our cell phones). That number became our home phone. We try to keep at least a few minutes on the prepaid phone for babysitters, etc. (although they all seem to have a cell of their own now). It'll probably be The Boy's first phone when he gets older as it does nothing but calls and texts..

You could try getting a Magic Jack: http://www.magicjack.com/

I bought a Nettalk Duo just for this purpose. It's $70 and that includes one year of service. It's $30 a year after. It's a little flaky but works well in a pinch.

If I'm not mistaken, you can plug a phone into a disconnected land line and still make 911 calls.

Your concern about having young kids is valid (and ditto for your statement about bundling), but for my family, with school aged children and no cable (we "cut the cord" a couple of years ago), it didn't make sense to pay for a landline.

That having been said, we do have a $10/month cell line on our family plan (shared minutes) which we keep as a "house line".

We both have Tracfones for emergency, but we go through Ooma, which is a voip service, and we pay about $2.50/month surcharge for 911 (they register your address). You have to put down $200 for the hardware initially, but that pays for itself within a few months considering what other voip companies charge, and the service is great. So we still have a "normal" phone connected through voip.

>> We have gotten rid of all our old cell phones, so keeping one around that is inactive that will still dial 911 isn't the answer I'm looking for.

If you threw out the old ones, get a new "dumb" phone with numeric buttons that you keep plugged into the wall charger then. Cheapest route. Careful that its not too old -- TDMA phones don't work in some areas anymore...test it periodically.

We are in a rural area with cell service that still isn't always reliable. While we attempted to ditch the landline, we decided that our cells alone were not reliable enough considering we have two preschoolers and are expecting twins.

We also have Ooma and love it. $200 for the equipment at the outset and then $3.14/ month to cover taxes and 911 surcharge. It works great and is so much cheaper than any other option.

We are going to get something similar to Ooma but cheaper -- can't decide between Magic Jack Plus (not to be confused with original Magic Jack) and the Nettalk device. For $70 for the first year it includes the device and a year of unlimited talking, including E911, and then each year after that is $30ish.

We'll get that and then scale our cell phone plans way down since we use most of our talking minutes at home anyway.

My daughter is old enough that I'm starting to think about leaving her alone at home while I run really quick errands. This doesn't happen often enough, though, that I'm willing to get a 9 year-old her own cell phone, even though that's her solution to all this. I'll be watching these responses with interest, as I'm nervous about leaving her home with no way to get in touch with anybody.

We have kept our land line. When tornadoes ravaged our area last Spring we had no power, no phone, and limited road access (but since most gas stations couldn't pump gas, and only a handful of grocery stores were open (limited selection, no power, cash only, many put a limit of 5 items per customer)for several days we weren't going anywhere). Not everyone was without phone, and our phone came on days before the power did. People's cell started dying the day after the storms, and most people couldn't recharge for several days.

Having another way to communicate is worth it to us. Besides, we use it for our monitored home security system as well.

I'm fairly certain that if you plug a 'regular' phone into a jack in your house, it will allow for calls made to 911. We have an old house phone plugged into the wall and have instructed our children on how to make the call in the case of an emergency (also '911' is posted next to the phone). Maybe that is just the case in our state, but I thought that was the case pretty much anywhere. Here is a website I found: http://news.consumerreports.org/electronics/2009/05/update-about-911-and-disconnected-landlines.html
I hope this helps!

Yeah, I'll second the comments about plugging a house phone into a wall jack. Whether you have service or not, it will still work to dial 911.

I third that, and also second recommend adding a line to your existing cell plan (usually only $10) and just keeping it as a spare in the house (i.e. not allowed to be used outside the house). Works just as well as having a landline, and when the kids ARE ready for a cell, they already have one that, ideally, they are familiar with and know how to use (and you do, too).

Reasons we're keeping our land line:

1. If we're gone, we want caretakers to be able to call for help at any time.

2. If you dial 911 from a landline, the number is linked up to your address, and the dispatcher will know where you live if even if you don't say anything. Not so with a cell phone or VOIP.

3. I like having one central number where you can reach the whole family.

We have kept our landline too. My daughter has, in the past, required acute hospitalizations and our pediatrician instructed us to always use an ambulance to get her in when this occurs. While that may be (I hope) in the past, until now I knew I was too anxious to gamble with 911 on a cell or in the case of power outages. Remember, VOIP products don't work without electric power, although landlines can.

Not sure whether I will be able to comfortably revisit this decision in the next few years, but will certainly keep looking at it.

I won't get rid of the landline. 911 calls on cell phones can't pinpoint where you are, they can only get to within a certain radius of your home. With a landline, they can find you instantly. I can also screen calls that come in with an answering machine, not just voice mail. If I am busy in another part of the house, I can hear the phone ring and decide from the message if I need to drop what I am doing to answer the phone. Can't do that with a cell phone.

As a 911 dispatcher, in my opinion, a landline is WAY better in the event of an emergency. With landlines, we know the EXACT address of where you are, whereas with cell phones, we cannot always pinpoint your exact location. So, even if your child picks up a cell phone, in service or not, unless they know the exact address of where they are, it does us 911 dispathchers no good. With a landline, though, they don't need to verbalize their address- they just need to state their emergency. With cell phones, we can do things such as 'ping' your cell phone to try and find your general location, but in a true emergency, all that does is waste precious minutes that could potentially save lives.

My kids are perfectly capable of jacking around with our iPhones already. The trick is to keep them from making 911 calls on accident.

We are keeping our landline too, both for emergency purposes and because I don't want my kids' friends calling my cell phone! I'm not always home, I'm not always with my kids, and sometimes I travel for work. If my kids are going to be reachable (before they have cell phones of their own, which will be years), we need a land line.

This is an interesting discussion. I've been thinking about dropping our landline also. We have a bundle with our cable/internet so it wouldn't be a huge savings, but we'd probably save a little bit each month. The 911 issue is not something I'd thought about before though. I like the idea of having a regular phone plugged into the wall someplace for emergencies - also, not a cordless, so it could be used if the power is out. We actually keep once of those in the basement ever since the great blackout of 2003.

I don't think it would be hard to teach a school-age kid how to dial 911 on a smart phone, but it might be difficult for them to locate it quickly in an emergency, whereas the landline phone (esp. if not a cordless) would always be in the same place.

Wow, I've never read the comment section here before and it's only a step above youtube. People are responding with the exact answer you said you didn't want. Apparently you are all old as shit too because I don't know anyone under 35 that has a land line and informal polls in graduate classes confirm literally *no one*.

As someone mentioned, you can still make 911 calls from a "disconnected" land line unless you've ripped out the wires like we did. Just tell your kids to go to a neighbors house/aptment. I'd rather have them deal with whatever the issue than calling 911. You're only talking a few years between them being able to recognize an emergency and having their own phones.

@ Willy - your comment was not terribly helpful. Also, this is a site about parenting, which means most (if not all) of the readers are probably parents of young children, and I'd bet the majority of us are over 35. If this qualifies us as "old as shit" then so be it. (For the record I am 34 and have a landline.)

I don't know that I'd want my kid to spend the time trying to find the neighbors (who may or may not be at home) in an emergency - I'd rather he was able to call 911 from the house rather quickly.

Personally I have to say that it is best just to keep the land line in case of an emergency. I mean what if the cell network goes down?

I still have my land-line phone. In case of an emergency your child may not know where you keep your cell phone. It is usually not in the same place all of the time.

Willy: Are you kidding me? That's quite a judgement for someone who has never spent time in the comment section. The quality and generosity of the community here is what MAKES this site.

Leave a comment if you have something helpful to say. Dissenting opinions are welcome; smart-ass condescension is not.

If I am downstairs, my cell phone, if not charging, is always on the same spot at the base of the stairs/next to the front door. If I am upstairs, it is on the ledge at the top of the stairs. When I go to bed, it moves to my bedside table.

I'd like a landline, but our fixer had them all (ahem) plastered over, and we're on a tight budget, so there you are.

If you have only a cell, and a pool, for God's sake visualize yourself THROWING YOUR CELL ONTO SOMETHING SOFT before jumping into the pool after a kid. I did that one once and MAN being at the hospital after an emergency was an awful time to be without my phone. We just had a bunch of deaths in the family and I was sitting there in the ER crying because due to the intense stress I could only remember dead people's phone numbers.

We were hit by a tornado in 2005. The CELL TOWERS WERE NOT HIT, but COULD NOT HANDLE THE INCREASED TRAFFIC.

Everyone in the world was calling our little town and everyone in town was calling out. The cell system wasn't reliable FOR MONTHS due to increased traffic.

And while we were sitting in the pitch dark basement wondering what just happened- our LAND LINE rang (which was terrifying in the total silence). Buried telephone lines just rock.

We couldn't have called 911 on our cell phones that night or the following week.

Keep an old/cheap handset that doesn't require power too.

And Willy, just keep learning everything the hard way, young buck. It keeps us geriatrics amused.

RE: Willy...please don't judge all the younger readers by his comments!

At 27, this is my solution...we have a corded landline since it will work even if power is out, which has happened. We currently still have a home phone plan (plus our kiddo is not even in the range of having a personal phone, yet) but will probably leave it eventually...since the 911 call will still work where we live.

Since my 9 year old has started her innane phone conversations about nothing phase, I'm definitely keeping the landline.. no way am I letting her eat up all my cell minutes with that nonsense!
Also I don't trust my cell to always be charged in the event of an emergency.

ps Willy- I hope you haven't taught your kids to call your neighbors names like "old as shit" or they might be less inclined to help.

I'm 34, Willy, and still have a landline.

Anyway, my husband and I have four children - three nine year olds and a 5 year old. We kept our landline because the kids need to be able to get to a phone in case of an emergency AND our triplets are at the age where they want to talk to friends on the phone. It just makes sense for our family to have a landline.

I bought a cheap corded phone for emergencies. I read that it might work even without a phone line. It does not at my house. There is absolutely nothing there.
We used to have DSL for our internet. We did not have phone service per say, although we could receive calls and could pay per minute to use it outgoing. That was with Windstream. That might be something for others to look into.

As a 9-1-1 Professional:
1) Please do not assume that a disconnected landline will still work to dial 9-1-1. This is not supported in most states. Also, 9-1-1 knowing your location is actually based on your phone number. When your phone is disconnected or the number is recycled, this means that the 9-1-1 center may not know your physical address.
2)Disconnected/"throw away" cell phones. Although it is true that you should be able to dial 9-1-1 from these phones, they do not support:
a) the ability for the 9-1-1 center to call you back if disconnected accidentally (or intentionally).
b) do not support even basic wireless location information like a live cell phone. The closest the 9-1-1 center will get is the Tower location that your cell phone is connected to. For a rural area this could easily mean you are within a 25 mile radius of the tower. For an urban area, this could mean they know you are within a mile or two of a tower. That's a pretty big area to search within.
My wife and I have also struggled with this question, and I anticipate we will be adding a landline as our girls get a little older.

You can buy blue tooth phones that look like regular phones but they tap into your wireless phone via blue tooth:

http://www2.panasonic.com/consumer-electronics/learn/Phones-Fax/Telephones/whats-hot-link-2-cell.jsp

No land line needed and they can stay at home and are easy for kids to use. (and gramma)

I have bundled service (cable/internet/phone), but I'm not sure what I have is technically a landline. It was the only option with my cable company, but it's actually through the cable modem. I think I would lose it in a power outage. When the earthquake hit Virginia a couple months ago followed by the hurricane along the East Coast, I was in VA and my husband was in NJ. Neither of our cell phones were reliable (though both were charged). I suppose this is because of the traffic on the cell lines. A true landline would have been nice.

We do not have a landline phone because our service is provided by Fios. If the electricity is gone, so is the phone. We bought a pre-paid phone for our daughter (she's 8) and paid $15 for the phone because it was kid simple (flip open and press numbers, flip close)and $100 for 1000 minutes that don't expire for a year. We registered her phone to allow GPS tracking if she calls 911 (Hubby works in the tech part of the medical field and he set it up, I wish I had better info to share on that part) and registered her name and home address to the handset. She is never home alone but in a serious emergency she can call for help. Her phone, like ours, has a charger in the car and since I always keep the tank full we're fine there.

There is more to an emergency than just calling 911. Thankfully we have an amazing response time where we live (we actually consider this when we move into a house)but if the house is on fire or someone is seriously hurt, you need an adult there immediately. We know all 6 neighbor families well enough for her to run to them for help (all within a cul-de-sac; 3 houses have people there at all times because they have disabled elderly) and my husband (who was a combat life saver in Iraq) has taught her self-defense as well as how to handle emergencies. In the event of an intruder, there is a safe place for her to hide that is too small for an adult to follow. She will not come out from this space until we use a code word. She also has a Marine airhorn that she keeps for emergencies. You may not hear a child screaming but that thing will get some attention.

My husband's training makes him a bit excitable about safety issues but the absolute best thing that you can do is bake a big plate of cookies or stop and buy a big thing of bagels and pop into the police station. Ask THEM what works best in your particular area and what they do for their own children. Ask if you can call and see what name and address registers in their system, maybe they can correct any mistakes? Tell them your name and introduce your kids. Ask them if they have tours available. Basically, get to know the people that you will be calling.

Yes, having a landline phone could be important but intruders frequently cut those lines and utility service can go down all together (at least here in Texas) from the weather. Safety isn't really about the phone, it's about how you teach your child to respond.


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My daughter is too young even to dial 9-1-1 but we have a simple security system in the house. I think it's $12/month for monitoring and they installed it free. We've talked about how the big red button calls for help. We have it tied to a landline but you can get it tied to a cell phone as well. One thing I like about this is that the security system monitoring people have a list of our neighbors they can send over immediately, have background information on us, etc. They will call 911 if needed. We are building a new house right not and next house will have keypads upstairs, downstairs, and near the pool. Also they talk to you over a speaker so if you are trying to do CPR you aren't also balancing a phone against your shoulder.

SaraB... How do you think that simple security system communicates... Your phone line! A lot of people don't realize if you drop your land line, your security monitoring goes bye bye...

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