Knowing This Smartphone Trick Just Might Save Your Life

Our 911 emergency communication system was developed in 1968 when calls for emergency services originated from landline phones. Much has changed since then, and now approximately 80% of all 911 calls come from cell phones. This uptick in cell phone usage has caused Emergency Communication Centers to face technical shortcomings as calls are directed by cell towers, causing as many as 10% of all calls to bounce to a neighboring jurisdiction call center.

The Importance of Knowing Your Location

Most bounced 911 call problems will be corrected with the change over to Enhanced 911, Smart 911, and Next Generation 911 technology. Not everyone has completed the upgrade, and the issue of pinpointing your exact location can still be a problem for 911 operators, as first responders cannot help you if they cannot find you.


The consequences of not having an enhanced GPS device was all too evident on June 4, 2020, in Loudoun County, VA, when a 16-year-old young man was swimming with friends in a small creek that feeds into the Potomac River. The youth disappeared under the water, and his friends could not locate him. Soon after, a panicked 911 cell call was made from their location in Virginia.


The call should have gone to Loudoun County, VA, but unfortunately, the call bounced to Montgomery County, MD, on the other side of the Potomac River. The caller was unsure of her exact address and used neighborhood locations that were not familiar to the Maryland 911 operator. Montgomery County dispatched emergency water rescue units that arrived sometime later on the Maryland side of the river. After several more 911 calls, rescue crews arrived on the scene 36 minutes later.


The young man was pronounced dead upon their arrival despite citizen CPR efforts. Had the incident’s actual location been known, the nearest rescue crew was only 4 miles away. While we cannot know if the young man would have lived with the proper emergency response, there are lessons we all can learn from this tragedy.


These essential lessons might save a life:

  • Knowing your location is of utmost importance.

  • 911 operators estimate that at least the first 40 seconds of an emergency call is spent trying to determine the caller’s location.

  • Every second counts in emergencies.

  • Be aware that medical emergencies are widespread when swimming in lakes, creeks, and rivers. These places are usually not monitored by lifeguards and may have unexpected currents and undertows.

  • Be prepared to act quickly.

  • Know your location, and don’t hesitate to call 911 when an emergency occurs.

Quick cell phone tips that could be the difference between life and death:

  • Know how to find your location using your current GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude) by the following ways on your phone:

  • On the Maps Application:

  • Tap the arrow in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

  • Tap the blue dot on the screen (this is your current location).

  • Swipe up on the screen to see latitude and longitude on the bottom of the screen.

  • On the Google Maps Application:

  • Touch and hold an area on the map that is not labeled.

  • A red pin will appear.

  • Tap the Dropped Pin words at the bottom of the screen, and latitude and longitude will appear.

  • Sharing these coordinates with the 911 operator will enable them to find your location and direct responding units to you.

Taking a few minutes to learn these map application tips can be the difference between life and death. It is essential to realize that 911 operators work in a high-stress environment, which usually demands mandatory overtime and long shifts. Turnover is near 20%, with the average career lasting 2-3 years. Knowing your location by address and now by GPS on your cell phone will help operators get emergency help to you as quickly as possible. As we said earlier, first responders cannot help you if they cannot find you.


Don’t be scared, be prepared! The Institute for Childhood Preparedness teaches these life-saving techniques and more during our Communication During Emergencies and Disasters: Considerations for Early Childhood Programs online training course. You can also register for our brand new hybrid training program today: online training followed by on-site practical training, designed with your safety in mind. Schedule training today.


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