What to Know When Using a Mobile Phone to Dial 9-1-1

In the case of an emergency, everyone knows to dial 9-1-1 on their phone to quickly contact local authorities, but you may face a big difference in service depending on what kind of phone you use. Most 9-1-1 systems do not treat landlines and mobile phone calls the same way.

When you call 9-1-1 from a hardwired phone line, the system immediately routes you to the nearest call center. The operator usually receives precise information including the name and address of the phone’s owner.

When a call originates from a mobile phone, it takes authorities more time to track down the caller’s location. Those extra wasted moments could mean the difference between life and death for several reasons.

  • Cell phone calls do not always get routed to the nearest 9-1-1 call center. Using the GPS coordinates on your device, most call centers can only approximate your location, meaning a 9-1-1 call center from a nearby county or town may receive your call instead of the closest emergency center. That can waste valuable time if the operator chooses to transfer your call to a closer 9-1-1 operator, and it may take longer for local authorities to receive notification about your emergency.
  • Cell phone signal loss means more hang-ups. Immediately give the operator your location and phone number. If you call from a “dead zone” or a place where cellular reception is spotty, the operator needs to know how to reach you in case contact is lost. If your call is cut off, call 9-1-1 back as soon as possible.
  • It takes longer to relay all of your personal information to a 9-1-1 operator on a mobile phone. You have to assume that the operator has no information about your location. Even if your mobile device provides a general position, it can span as large as three football fields or more. You must be prepared to give detailed directions to your operator. Include landmarks like large buildings and street names.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when using your mobile device to call 9-1-1:

  • Pull over while using your phone in the car. Distracted driving greatly increases your chances of causing or being involved in a collision.
  • Do not program 9-1-1 into your contacts list or use an auto 9-1-1 feature. This will dramatically cut down on the number of accidental calls made to emergency centers.
  • Enable services like GPS, Bluetooth, or crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspots. Most smartphones broadcast the most accurate location-tracking information when they have these services enabled over extended periods of time. This allows satellites more time to calibrate the location of the phone.

For these reasons you should always opt to use a landline instead of a mobile device to dial 9-1-1 during an emergency. If you must use a cell phone remember to immediately give the calltaker the following information:

  • The location of the emergency – (Address, street intersection, landmarks, city, county, mile marker, etc.)
  • What the emergency is and what type of assistance is needed
  • Your cell phone number

Keeping all of this in mind will help save valuable, potentially life-saving time for the victim.