24 November 2015

911 in a mobile society, what you need to know

Every year, approximately 240,0000 calls are made to 911 through over 6,000 call centers.  The FCC estimates that approximately 70% of those calls are from cell phones.  When 911 began in 1968, all phone numbers were tied to a physical address, obviously this is not the case anymore.  More and more homes do not even have a land line and solely rely on their cell phones.  Emergency communications professionals and the FCC are trying to play catch up, but admit that they are nowhere close and at best we have a patchwork of quick fixes.  In an emergency, the illusion of 911 being your security blanket could get you killed.

No matter where you are in the US, if you call 911 the first question you will hear is “where is your emergency”.  It is the single most vital piece of information you will need to provide.  In the best case scenario, you know where you are and help is on the way.  But, we know that best case scenarios cannot be counted on, especially in an emergency.  As required by the FCC, if you call 911 the GPS in your phone immediately turns on whether you had it turned on or not.  If you cannot speak, or the call is dropped, the closest tower can sometimes provide the longitude and latitude of your location within 50 meters.  Notice that I said sometimes.  Even if it works and you are at a fixed location, they have been known to be a mile or more off.  You also need to understand that the tower does not give your elevation.  It is pinning you down to street level location.  If you are in an office building, not only can they not tell what floor you are on, but it is likely because of being in a building and up high that you are pinging between towers or not hitting any at all.

Like I said earlier, 911 was designed to send emergency services to fixed locations.  There is a high probability that when you call 911 on your phone you will be walking or driving.  If you are driving, your location is changing rapidly and you are going to be pinging against different towers.  In this case if you cannot give your location because you don’t know where you are, because for an example have been abducted, it is unlikely that emergency services will be able to keep up with you.

Something else that many don’t realize is that in most cases you cannot text 911.  That means in a situation such as a burglar in your house, or an actives shooter in your school, if you are hiding, trying to be quiet, you will need to try to call 911, and possibly alert the attacker to your hiding place.

Taking the above information into consideration, here is our advice-
Don’t rush to call 911- Putting your head down to do so does not give you a “time out” from reality.  Just because you are on the phone does not mean you cannot get hit, shot, or struck by a car as you stumble around an accident scene.

Call 911 when it is safe to do so- preferably from a fixed location where you don’t have to move from.  This is going to require you to take action to protect or treat yourself or someone else before calling 911.  A person will not start breathing or stop bleeding because you are calling 911.  If you don’t have personal protection and preparedness skill sets, now is the time to get them.

Landmarks, landmarks, landmarks- from experience I can tell you that police will usually find a landmark faster that an address.  If you are in a vehicle, try to tell them what you are coming up to instead of what you just passed.  Even at that rate you will likely be past that point, continue to update if possible.  Business names are easier to read at a distance than street signs.  If you cannot see any buildings, let them know roads you are coming up to.

If you cannot talk- send a text to someone that you know will most likely answer.  The text should look something like this “CALL 911, ANYTOWN USA”  This is going to require them to call their local 911 and tell the dispatcher that they got a 911 text from someone in ANYTOWN USA.  They will have to put you in contact with that call center.  When they answer you back, you can say something along the lines of “201 EAST ELM ST 3RD FLOOR ACTIVE SHOOTER I AM IN A CLOSET”

Giving information- whether talking or texting during an emergency, take a breath, think about what you are going to say and type before doing so.  Share as much information as possible with the least amount of words.  The longer the dispatcher is listening to you, the longer it takes for her to send the appropriate assets your way.  They can get the details as they have units heading in your direction.

Texting pictures- if you find yourself in an unfamiliar building and can take a picture out of a window and text it, emergencies can use that to pin point your location.

Remember, even a successful call to 911 will only bring emergency services to something that has likely already occurred.  It does nothing to stop what has happened or is happening.  Prepare yourself accordingly.

Related articles

How to give a good suspect description
Unarmed citizen response to an active shooter
Active Shooter proofing your kids

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