The problem with 911 emergency services and cell phones (in other words, why you should keep your landline)

8143814837_c3b6412d40_zThis hit the news last week: In Washington D.C., FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spent the day with 911 dispatchers to learn what they do every day. In this process he started to wonder what happened if people called the emergency system using a cell phone—could people be found on a map accurately? The short answer: no, they can’t.

Genachowski pulled out his cell phone to test whether his call would be accurately put on a map. Rather than showing he was at the 911 center it showed he was at the Costco across the street. To try and correct the problem the dispatcher did a “re-bid” and asked the system to try again (taking extra time on the call to do so). Despite trying three times, the system never managed to locate him properly (it did move Genachowski’s location from being at the back of the store to the front—clearly still a problem since he wasn’t in the store at all).

In fact, after looking at the data, as many as 90 percent of cell calls into the 911 center in D.C. were missing the latitude/longitude information that would allow a call to be pinpointed accurately.

Sure, in some cases the dispatcher was able to get address information from the caller, but this isn’t always possible if the caller is unable to speak due injury.

To think about not being located in an emergency is scary stuff—and reminder why it’s worth it to keep your landline. And to add fuel to that fire, we’ve got 10 more reasons why you should. Of course, not all accidents happen at home—but about 30 percent do, and getting help quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

Note: if you’ve already cut the cord, please be safe—here are the FCC’s tips for calling 911 from your cell phone.

About Missy Kellor

Missy works on the Corporate Communications team and reports stories to TDS employees and customers. This is right up her alley because she’s an extrovert and also a big fan of research (really, she’ll look up just about anything that strikes her interest). Missy is a native of Madison, Wis. with an undergraduate in Anthropology and a master’s degree in Life Sciences Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her interest in the Internet as a mass media shaped her work towards a PhD in Journalism and Mass Communications. She’s also worked as an editorial assistant, copywriter, and production artist. In her off hours, Missy is a crafter, Pinterest addict, reader, wife, and mom of two kids.


One Response to The problem with 911 emergency services and cell phones (in other words, why you should keep your landline)

  1. Kari July 25, 2014 at 6:42 am #

    Thank you for this article. I have many family and friends that have cut the cord. I will be sharing this information with them for sure.

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