Enhanced 911: What You Should Know About Calling For Help

Before the 1980s, people needing emergency assistance in most cities across the U.S. dialed their local telephone company operator to be connected with emergency services.

Today, even preschoolers can tell you 9-1-1 is the number to call for help. But, as technology has evolved, so has 9-1-1. With the introduction of the cell phone, dispatchers were no longer able to automatically receive the caller’s location if he or she was using a wireless device. This led to the introduction of Enhanced 911 (or E911)—a technology developed to help locate the wireless device’s approximate location using the service provider’s wireless network and the GPS chip built into the phone.

And, 9-1-1 technology has continued to advance. In 2012, Verizon Wireless began working with the public safety community to enable customers to send text messages to local 9-1-1 centers. While calls remain the best way to contact 9-1-1, there may be situations in which speaking to a dispatcher is not an option.

With all the changes, there are some important things all wireless customers should know (with a few good old reminders thrown in):

  • While E911 continues to evolve (e.g. wireless carriers recently developed the Roadmap for Improving E911 Location Accuracy to address the need to improve indoor 9-1-1 location accuracy), it’s important to know your location and be prepared to share that with the dispatcher. If you’re unsure of your exact location, look for landmarks, street intersections or highway mile markers.
  • That old phone you’re not using anymore can still dial 9-1-1—as long as the battery is charged and the phone is turned on.
  • Consider creating a contact with the name “ICE” to include the name(s) and phone number(s) of people you want notified in an emergency.
  • If texting to 9-1-1, provide your location, include the nature of your emergency and do not attach pictures or videos in your text.
  • Texting 9-1-1 is still relatively new and not all counties have this capability. You can find out if it’s available where you live by visiting fcc.gov. If you text 9-1-1 to a center that does not support the capability, you will receive a bounceback message advising you to call 911.
  • Reserve those calls or texts to 9-1-1 for emergencies only. There are a multitude of examples of non-emergency calls, including complaints about a restaurant being out of chicken nuggets, being stuck in traffic and a noisy neighbor. These non-emergency calls can waste valuable time and resources for emergency responders.

The number of 9-1-1 calls placed by people using wireless phones has significantly increased in recent years, according to the FCC. In fact, approximately 70% of 9-1-1 calls come from cell phones.

The ability to connect through the power of wireless technology is not only transforming the way we communicate—it’s also saving lives.

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