911 Emergency Calls In A Modern Wireless World: Truths & Tips

You've probably heard that when dialing 911 from a cell phone, the carrier has to put the call through whether or not you subscribe to their service, but have any of us actually tested or even confirmed it? Don't just take our word for it, hear it straight from the horse's mouth and learn the unique challenges associated with this and how the FCC handles them.

According to the FCC, the huge popularity and convenience of cell phones means that approximately "70 percent of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones". The convenience of having a cell phone on you at all times wherever you are is an important factor in owning one and helps justify the expense. However, that same mobility also creates a problem:

Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address. While the location of the cell site closest to the 911 caller may provide a general indication of the caller's location, that information is not usually specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly. - FCC

The FCC has three basic rules that apply to "all wireless licensees, broadband Personal Communications Service (PCS) licensees and certain Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) licensees."

  1. The FCC's basic 911 rules require wireless service providers to transmit all 911 calls to a PSAP, regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the provider's service or not.
  2. Phase I Enhanced 911 (E911) rules require wireless service providers to provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call.
  3. Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to provide more precise location information to PSAPs; specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending upon the type of location technology used.
Pin it button big

The FCC provides a list of tips for helping you get the fastest response in case of an emergency when calling from a cell phone.

  • Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency right away.
  • Provide the emergency operator with your wireless phone number, so if the call gets disconnected, the emergency operator can call you back.
  • PSAPs currently lack the technical capability to receive texts, photos and videos.
  • If your wireless phone is not "initialized" (meaning you do not have a contract for service with a wireless service provider), and your emergency call gets disconnected, you must call the emergency operator back because the operator does not have your telephone number and cannot contact you.
  • To help public safety personnel allocate emergency resources, learn and use the designated number in your state for highway accidents or other non life-threatening incidents. States often reserve specific numbers for these types of incidents. For example, "#77" is the number used for highway accidents in Virginia.
  • 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 call centers.
  • If your wireless phone came pre-programmed with the auto-dial 911 feature already turned on, turn this feature off. Consult your user manual for instructions.
  • Lock your keypad when you're not using your wireless phone. This action prevents accidental calls to 911.
  • Consider creating a contact in your wireless phone's memory with the name "ICE" (in Case of Emergency), which lists the phone numbers of people you want to have notified in an emergency.

READ MORE:
FCC: Wireless 911 Services

MORE ON WIRELESS & 911 SERVICES ON APARTMENT THERAPY
Convenient or Crazy? Texting 911 for Emergencies
What To Do With Your Old iPhone? (Or Other Smartphone)
Good Question: Cell Phone Only, or Keep the Landline, Too?
Moving Survey: Do You Have a Land Line?
LA Survey: Have You Given Up Your Land Line Phone?

(Images: 1. Shutterstock, 2. Shutterstock)