The ability to reach 911 from a cell phone has become a vital public safety tool that comes with some unique challenges. The gist? If you call 911 from a landline, first responders will know your exact location even if you didn’t have time to provide it. But… if you call from a cell phone… first responders might NOT know your exact location unless you give it to them.
Here are some tips for making a 911 call from a wireless phone: 1.) Tell the emergency operator your location and nature of the emergency right away, and 2.) Provide the operator with your cell phone number so if the call gets disconnected they can call you back.
Here's why. When you make a 911 emergency call on a cell phone, you send signals through the air. This leaves room for error. While wireless carriers are required to provide latitude and longitude location-tracking capabilities to dispatchers, they are only accurate up to a 984-foot permissible radius. That leaves responders to use a system of triangulation to find your location and when you live in a densely populated area it also means responders may need to knock on a few wrong doors before they find the emergency.
Additionally, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules allow up to six minutes to determine your location before a cell phone carrier is considered in violation. In an emergency, six minutes is time that’s too valuable to waste. While requirements are becoming increasingly strict, it will likely take time before wireless technology improves.
The fact remains that cell phones are a VITAL EMERGENCY RESPONSE tool. We don't want to dissuade you from using a cell phone. Quite the contrary. Since people carry them everywhere they actually can cut down on the time it takes to notify first responders of an emergency and as long as you remember to provide your exact location, emergency personnel can respond quickly.
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