True or False: 9-1-1 Dispatchers Automatically Know my Location

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GPS Location MapDebunking the Myth 911 Can Access Your Location

Today we are going to debunk one of the most dangerous myths pertaining to safety and security. A myth is an idea or story that is believed by many people, but that is not true. It is a widely held belief that dispatchers can obtain your exact location from the phone that you are calling from when dialing 9-1-1. I am here today to tell you that information is not entirely accurate. Let’s find out why.

When the 9-1-1 service went live in 1968, it was designed to be a universal number that would direct a caller to emergency services. There were no cell phones back then and the system was designed for landline phones and hard-wired connection. The problem is that in 2015, the original design of 9-1-1 services has not been altered. Although your Facebook app can electronically receive your location, 9-1-1 cannot because it was not originally structured to do that.

dispatcher workingWhen a person does call from a cell phone, the dispatch computer system tries to obtain the signal from the tower that the call is coming from. Many times, this process takes minutes and the call is over before the location data is retrieved, or the data that comes back is simply the location of the tower, not the location of the call. Cell phones also route to the nearest open phone tower, often, that tower is outside the town that you’re actually calling from. When this happens and you are calling 9-1-1, your call is automatically routed to the dispatch center where the tower is located. Dispatch centers are not equipped to handle emergencies outside of their designated area and it greatly hinders emergency services arriving, much less obtaining an accurate location from a cell phone.

Many individuals manually turn off their location services on their phones when they are not in use. They do this for many reasons; one being that it drains the battery faster, and they don’t like the idea of a phone being able to tell exactly where they are. When your location services on your cell phone are turned off, it is nearly impossible for dispatchers to receive your location. The tower is trying to read the location data, but there is none because your location services are disabled from satellite radars.

These examples above are the most common issues in dispatchers receiving your location from your cell phone to send emergency services to your aid. Technology has come a long way, and phone carriers are working to develop a way for accurate locations to be obtained by dispatchers when a caller dials 9-1-1. Since there are quite a few years until that is possible, it is important to remember to always know your location when dialing 9-1-1. If you don’t know, explaining as much detail as possible will help the dispatcher to get services to you. Although many have been told, and believe that 9-1-1 dispatchers can generate their exact location, it is unfortunately not 100% true and continues to be a dangerous myth in our society.

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