Can You Really Call 911 From A Cell Phone?

Can You Really Call 911 From A Cell Phone?

by Medical Care Alert · 0 comments

According to CNN, calling 911 from a cell phone will put you in touch with emergency services.  However, they might not be quite as local as you need.

For example, in Oakland, California, all 911 calls from cell phones are routed to the California Highway Patrol.   That’s works if you’re reporting a car accident on the Bay Bridge. But it might not be as efficient if you’ve fallen or if your house is on fire.

In fact, the Oakland Police Department advises citizens: “DO NOT CALL 911 from a cell phone. When you call 911 from a cell phone, the call is routed to the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The CHP then has to reroute the call to your local police or fire dispatcher, losing precious time.”

There are 3 basic problems with making a 911 cell phone call:

  1. They Don’t Know WHO You Are.  The caller ID from your cell phone does not necessarily identify who you are, just your phone number and possibly the general metropolitan area where your cellular service originates from.   They wont know your name, home address, medical conditions, or who to call in the event of an emergency.
  2. They Don’t Know WHERE You Are.  911 responders won’t immediately know where you are. The closest they will know is the location of the cell tower you happened to have used when placing your call.  If you lose your connection or drop your cell phone before you can give your location, they might not be able to find you.
  3. Cell Phones DON’T SEND GPS Coordinates.  Your phone may have GPS on it, but that information is not sent to 911.  U.S. wireless carriers are not required until 2012 to provide emergency responders with the latitude and longitude  of a 911 cell phone caller.  And once they do, they are only required to be accurate to within 300 meters (984 feet)  of the caller.  That’s three football fields away from where you may be.

Should You Ever Call 911 From A Cell Phone?

Yes!  In an emergency you should absolutely call 911 from a cell phone.  Just understand the limitations of a 911 cell phone call, and don’t expect a cell phone to serve as a substitute for a medical alert response system.

When you do call 911 from a cell phone, follow these important steps:

  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Give your name
  • Give your location as best you can – town, cross streets, landmark, etc are all helpful
  • Give your cell phone number
Also, make sure you enter your emergency contacts into your cell phone’s directory, marking them with the letters ICE (In Case of Emergency). Paramedics know to look for this.  See our article on how to add ICE to your cell phone to set this up.
Most folks looking to reach emergency services when they are outside of the home may prefer a GPS medical alert system.  A GPS medical alert system contacts a monitoring center that has your information on hand, and will dispatch emergency services to your location.

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