Shortfalls of dialing 911 on a mobile phone: What you should know

CNN recently ran a column on the potential for some communities to lose precious seconds in an emergency when people try to call 911 on their mobile phone.  As the article indicates, 911 technology was developed before mobile phones. With landlines, it’s easy to identify a definite location with the phone number of an inbound call. With cell phones, tracing the call depends on variables like cell tower locations and carrier hangups.

Calling 911 from a cell phone will indeed put you in touch with local emergency services. However, they might not be quite as local as you need.

For instance, in Oakland, California, all 911 calls from cell phones are routed to the California Highway Patrol. That’s great if you’re reporting a car accident on the Bay Bridge. But it might not be as efficient if your house is on fire.

Read more about the issue here.

As a first responder, this information can be critical to response time. If someone in your community is losing time by having his or her phone rerouted and doesn’t indicate their location (tracing can take up to 6 minutes on a mobile phone), this significantly decreases the likelihood of a timely response in an emergency situation.

If your department has a preferred number that should be called in an emergency, make sure to publicize that number in addition to 911 awareness. With the saturation of cell phones in the population and the decreased prominence of landlines, this issue won’t be going away soon.