While your smartphone can determine your location with GPS technology you might expect that calling 911 gives your location to 911 call takers/dispatchers. This is not necessarily the case. Many 911 agencies can receive location information of cell phones using the nearest cell tower. However, this information is highly inaccurate in that it can determine location only down to several hundred yards. Inaccurate location information can be a challenge for emergency responders to find anyone who needs their help.
Our county has “Enhanced 911” that provides exact address locations for 911 callers. But this is only for “old fashioned” landlines. And 911 call takers routinely ask for the address from 911 callers to verify the address on their screens since databases can be inaccurate. Nationwide, about 38% of households have cut their ties to landline phones, relying solely on their cell phones to make calls at home. This saves money, but at the expense of the safety net of “Enhanced 911” in case they cannot talk when they call 911.
According to The Wall Street Journal, 75% of calls placed to 911 agencies in California during a recent 18 month period, were placed using cell phones. So if we continue to rely more and more on cell phones instead of traditional landlines, knowing where we are will become more important in the future in the case of an emergency. While we can expect the technology to improve, giving 911 agencies the capability to locate us, that technology is not available now in way that 911 agencies can use accurately and quickly. And it may take longer than we might expect to implement location technology.
So the lesson is to be ready to give your location to the call taker when you call 911. Where your emergency is occurring is almost more important that what is going on. If the dispatcher doesn’t know where to send the fire trucks or the police, knowing that something is going on is almost useless.
For more information about this issue go to:
The Wall Street Journal-