Cell phones in an emergency can be a potential danger

By: Joe Gagnon Email
By: Joe Gagnon Email

Nearly one in five homes throughout the country have ditched their home phones, using only cell phones instead.

While cell phone companies may love to hear that, 911 emergency call centers say only using a cell phone in an emergency could be a potential danger.

When you see an accident or you need immediate assistance, of course you dial 911, but if you are using a cell phone, and you aren't sure where you are, first responders could be in the dark.

During a National Health Survey from the Center for Disease Control, the organization reports that 1 in 5 American homes use a cell phone exclusively.

Compare that to 3.5% of homes being wireless in 2003.

Because of that high number, Paula Creasy from Grand Junction's 911 Call Center says some of their technology still needs to catch up.

One example she says, "If you are in an apartment building, we may not know what apartment you are in."

When calling 911 from a landline, dispatchers can get your exact location most of the time.

Cell phones, however, aren't nearly as accurate.

When a 911 call from a cell comes in, the call center gets coordinates from the phone's service provider.

Problem is, it has a hard time getting an exact location.

We called 911 using a cellphone, with the call center's approval of course, to see how accurate a dispatcher's information can be.

When my number came up, their satellite imaging had my phone location about a block away from my actual location.

Creasy says there are many emergencies where an immediate response can be life or death.

Another problem, especially in a part of the country with a lot of outdoor activities, if you don't have bars on your cell phone, you can still call 911, but they cannot track down and send help as soon as you call.

Dispatchers recommend you to try to always have an idea of where you are, and, if possible, use a landline for the quickest response time.


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