Lost or hurt, can 911 help you out?
Wed, 30 Mar 2011 14:43:08 GMT —
When it comes to dialing 911 in an emergency, you expect the dispatcher to know where you're calling from. But if you're calling from a cell phone, does the emergency dispatch center know that information?
Some enhanced 911 center's know exactly where you're at and other's have just a rough idea of where you're calling from.
Over the last 20 years, emergency 911 centers have evolved into more than just call centers.
Technology has improved and now when you need help in an emergency, you're name, address, phone number and location appears on a computer screen in front of the dispatcher.
All that comes from when a person makes a call from a land line.
Mike Hall at the Marion County Missouri 911 center says many of the cell phones today have what's called a CDMA or a GPS unit in your phone. That helps dispatchers quickly locate a caller. But cell signals seek the nearest tower which can bounce calls to a distant dispatcher.
We asked on our Facebook page, "Have you ever called 911 from your cell phone and they've told you you've reached a different county's 911 dispatch?"
Dodie Mason Wessel told us, "Schuyler County and it went to Springfield."
Kimberly Billings Carr said, "Yes, Hancock County Illinois went to Clark County in Missouri. I had to call them as I an accident last month and was suprised that it went to Clark Co. The dispatcher told me it depends on what Tower it picks up."
We also got the following post from Deana Ross. She said, "Yes! Then after they get all of the information, they transfer you to the correct county that needs to handle it...'Which could lead to death if the emergency is severe enough.' They need to be quick about it, or say what county, and transfer you immediately...You know?"
To do some investigating, I went to several rural locations in Marion County with cell phones from U-S Cellular, A.T. & T. and Sprint. At each location we called 911 to see where our call went and if our location was accurate on the 911 map.
"I think it's important for citizens to understand that since their cell phone is basically a small radio, those signals can bounce around and if you call 911 and you are on the fringe of two counties or two states even, sometimes those cell phone signals will hit a tower in an adjoining jurisdiction and you will most likely be transferred back to the jurisdiction form you've called from," said Hall.
My first location was was about five miles south of Route six west of Taylor Missouri at the intersection of Route A and Route M and my first call was with US Cellular. My call was received at the Marion County 911 center and they were able to plot my location exactly.
I then moved to the AT&T phone, called 911 and that call went to the 911 center in Adams County Illinois in Quincy.
The third phone I had was a Sprint phone and when I called 911, that call went to the Lewis County dispatch center in Monticello.
Three calls, from three phones on three different wireless carriers and I ended up in three different locations. Click here for an enlarged map.
So I decided to move to a different spot and this time I went to the intersection of Route Z and Route C which is about 10 miles southeast of Palmyra and 10 miles south of my first location.
My first call again was with US Cellular and it plotted me about two miles west of my location.
The AT&T phone call put me exactly north of the intersection where I was standing.
And when I used the Sprint cell phone, my call went to Ralls County in New London.
Hall said the US Cellular call hit a tower on the northwest side of Palmyra and because of the distance of about nine and half miles, there could have been some disparity in the data that was being sent. Click here for an enlarged map.
Here's a Safe Family reminder: it's always a good idea to know where you are traveling and to mark your location by highways or landmarks, just in case your cell phone call gets bounced to a different dispatcher.
A side note, when I was headed back to the 911 center in Hannibal from my second location. I contacted the dispatch center and keep an open line with them for about 14 minutes and that were able to track my location on every highway, street and town I used with a lag time of only about five seconds.