Does calling 911 from a cell phone make it more difficult for dispatchers?

Do 911 operators struggle with locations from cell phone users?

PHOENIX - When you call 911 from a landline, most emergency responders can easily find you through the number and address of the phone you’re using.

When you call 911 from your cell phone, finding you can be a challenge because your call might be picked up by a tower that’s not near you.

“When they call on a cell phone, we get a cell phone ping and that goes off of the nearest cell tower and it gives us an idea of where they might be,” said Alicia Magera, a Phoenix Fire Department emergency dispatcher. 

That’s why the information you provide is crucial.

“The most important thing for us to know as dispatchers is where you are, so anything you can do to get us cross streets or descriptions of buildings, any description of what’s around you. After we get the information of where you are, we need to know what is wrong so we can send the right people to you,” said Magera.   

The FCC has rolled out various phases to improve public safety when calling 911 from a cell phone.

Phase I Enhanced 911 (E911) rules require wireless service providers to provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call.

Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to provide more precise location information to PSAPs; specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters, depending upon the type of location technology used.

“This technology has made it a lot easier for us to find you," said Magera.

According to the National Emergency Number Association, 98.7 percent of our population is caught up with the technology. It is also estimated that 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. each year and 80 percent of those from wireless devices.

Although there are very rare cases when a call from a cell phone prevents a dispatcher from arriving on time, the new technology has closed the gap dramatically.

“We have ways to find you, so does it make it difficult for us? No, because we know how to ask you and how to get that information from you and make sure you get the help you need," said Magera. 

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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