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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.