Landlines Preferred Over Cell Phones When Making 911 Calls

January 19, 2011
Dwayne Page
Brad Mullinax
Dispatchers Janice Higham and Anthony Boyd on duty at 911 Center

"What's your location?" is one of the first things dispatchers need to know to get help quickly to you in the event of an emergency.

If you're using a cell phone, rather than a landline, to make an emergency call for help and are able to give your address quickly and accurately, that's fine. But if you can't give the address because of a medical condition or some other reason, the dispatchers have to rely exclusively on technology to locate you and that poses a greater challenge if you're using a cell phone.

Brad Mullinax, Director of the DeKalb County 911 Center, urges all residents to keep this in mind as you consider whether to drop your land line phone service and go exclusively with cell phones at home. "Over the past several years we've had a growing trend of folks disconnecting their home telephone service and going to cell phones. Cell phones have become a great thing and they are convenient for everybody but they do pose somewhat of a problem to 911. When 911 was first set up back in 1994 and we went to enhanced 911, it was set up in such a way to where we'd get caller ID information such as location and subscriber information when you call 911. But with cell phones we don't actually get that type of information. It's not really location based. We do have GPS on the cell phones but we don't get that exact location like we do with a landline. It often presents a problem for 911 dispatchers because we're not able to pinpoint exactly where you are so if you're having a heart attack and you can't talk to one of our 911 dispatchers, it sometimes delays the amount of time to get someone to you because we have to make an attempt to try and re-query that call and locate it by GPS which is not 100% accurate. Whereas with a landline call, we can get your address information and it pinpoints right on our map when you call 911."

"I know times are tough right now, economic wise. There's a lot of financial problems and a lot of families are under strains, but if there's any way possible for you to keep your home telephone service I would encourage all citizens to do that because it does greatly enhance the possibility of us locating you in the event of an emergency."

Meanwhile, Mullinax reminds cell phone users to be sure and remove the battery from any phone you no longer intend to use, even after it no longer has service, before you give it to your children to play with because it may still have the capability of calling 911. "We see this on a regular basis with cell phones that are disconnected, they (parents) give them to their children to play with. But what a lot of people don't realize is that a non-initialized cell phone or a cell phone that does not have service attached to it like through DTC Wireless or Verizon Wireless or some of the other carriers, if the phone does not have service, it still calls 911 regardless. So if you give those phones to your kids for them to play with, make sure to take the battery out of them because they will still call 911. We get a lot of bogus calls in these type of situations."

Mullinax also urges you to post your 911 address on your residence where it can easily be spotted by law enforcement, fire fighters, and EMS personnel. "A lot of folks will have it on their mailbox but they will not have it on their house and we have a hard time finding these citizens sometimes in emergencies. Ninety percent of the population does a pretty good job with it but we have several who will not post their 911 address. Ideally, it needs to be posted in three inch letters on the front of the residence and at the end of the driveway either with a 911 marker or on the mailbox."

When calling 911, Mullinax asks you to please be patient with the dispatchers and give them as much information as you can about your emergency. "We've seen a lot of negative publicity in Metro Nashville and other places where dispatchers are on the line for several minutes gathering information before they actually dispatch units out. We don't operate that way in DeKalb County. We have multiple dispatchers on at one time. The dispatcher that actually answers the phone taking the call, gathering information is not the person who is actually dispatching the call. We have someone else monitoring that call and they're getting units enroute. We have to ask a lot of questions such as location, whose calling, and what the actual problem is and sometimes citizens get a little frustrated with that but they're having an emergency and we understand. I'd just like to ask the public to be patient when you're calling 911 and give us as much information as possible because that helps us get the right units dispatched and it protects our units from any problems."

Mullinax added "If you should mis-dial and call 911 by mistake, we encourage you not to hang up the phone. Stay on the line with the 911 dispatcher and give us the information. Just tell us basically what happened. If you were trying to call Mexico, California, or somewhere else just let us know that information because that ties us up. We have to tie up a line making a second call back to your residence to find out what's going on. In addition, if we have a 911 hangup, it's our policy that we automatically dispatch response units to that location. So if you call 911 and it was a mis-dial, you're going to get a deputy or police officer regardless if there's a problem or not so just stay on the line with us and give us a little information. It'll make things a lot easier for you and us too."

Finally, Mullinax asks that you only call 911 when there's an actual emergency. Otherwise, call the non-emergency line at central dispatch, which is 615-215-3000. "A lot of times, we have folks call 911 when it's not actually a 911 emergency. It may be an emergency in your mind but if it's not an immediate threat to your life or property, then please use our non-emergency line. We dispatch non-emergency calls for the City of Smithville, DeKalb County, and the City of Alexandria. We encourage you to call if you need assistance but please don't tie up a 911 line for a non-emergency because our 911 lines in DeKalb County are limited. We don't have very many of them. Use our non-emergency number at 615-215-3000 if it is a non-emergency."

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