Calling 911 From Cell Phones

The number of 911 calls using wireless phones has more than tripled since 1995, to over 150 million a year. It is anticipated that by 2005, the majority of 911 calls will be from wireless callers. Public safety personnel estimate that about 30 percent of the 911 calls they receive daily are placed from wireless phones, and that percentage is growing.

For many Americans, the ability to call 911 for help in an emergency is one of the main reasons they own a wireless phone. To be effective, callers need to know how to properly use cellular phones and what information dispatchers need in an emergency.

Radio Frequencies & Accuracy

A wireless phone is actually a radio with a transmitter and a receiver that uses radio frequencies or channels - instead of telephone wire - to connect callers. Because wireless phones are by their very nature mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address. A caller using a wireless phone could be calling from anywhere. While the location of the cell tower used to carry a 911 call may provide a very general indication of the caller's location, that information is not usually specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance quickly. As of this date the standards are anywhere from 50 to 300 meter accuracy depending on your wireless device and service provider.

Be Prepared to Give Information
Because wireless 911 location information will not be available everywhere immediately, it is important for people calling 911 from wireless phones to remember the following:
  • Try to stay calm and speak slowly.
  • Tell the dispatcher the location of the emergency right away. Pay attention to details such as:
    • Addresses
    • Business names
    • Direction of travel
    • Intersections
    • Mile markers or exit numbers if on the highway
    • Street names
  • Give the dispatcher your wireless phone number so that if the call gets disconnected, the dispatcher can call you back.
  • Stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you to hang up.
  • Don't place yourself in danger - stay near the emergency scene only if it is safe.
Disconnection
If your wireless phone is not "initialized" (i.e., you do not have a contract for service with a wireless service provider), and your emergency call gets disconnected, you must call the dispatcher back because he or she does not have your phone number and cannot contact you.

Auto-Dial
Refrain from programming your phone to automatically dial 911 when one button, such as the "9" key, is pressed. Unintentional wireless 911 calls, which often occur when auto-dial keys are inadvertently pressed, cause problems for emergency services call centers.

If your wireless phone came preprogrammed with the auto-dial 911 feature already turned on, turn off this feature. Check your user manual to find out how. Lock your keypad when you're not using your wireless phone. This action prevents accidental calls to 911.