Cell phone locations tough to track for 911 dispatchers

By: Amy Lipman Email
By: Amy Lipman Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. A cell phone might be the most convenient way to call 911, but it's not the most effective for dispatchers to figure out a person's location.

When someone calls 911 from a landline, dispatchers automatically receive the address, phone number and name of the resident, so if the caller can't vocalize his or her location, first responders can still find the person.

However, when a call comes in from a cell phone, sometimes there's no location information at all or there are coordinates that are often inaccurate.

"We start getting everybody headed that way to search the area," said Mary Edris, a Grand Junction 911 dispatch supervisor. "If that can’t happen, we have to contact the cell phone provider and try to get subscriber information and see if they’re getting a ping off of it which is where the satellites showing where it might be hitting."

That entire search process takes time, which people don't have in an emergency situation.

"If you're having a heart attack and it takes us 10 to 20 minutes to find you, you could die before we get there," Edris said.

Dispatchers recommend people use landlines for emergency calls or at least say their location immediately after the dispatcher picks up the phone.

Also, people who don't have landlines won't receive emergency alerts for their area like evacuation notifications.

You can sign up for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center's emergency notification system at the following link: http://www.gjcity.org/EmergencyNotifications/

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