Your Attention, Please

At this time, I’d like to remind each of my Gentle Readers that any functioning cell-phone can reach 911.

And when I say any cell-phone I mean just that: any functioning cell-phone can be used to contact 911. If the battery has enough charge to hit a tower, and the phone works, you can dial 911 on it.

Doesn’t matter if you cancelled your service — you can dial 911 on it.

Doesn’t matter if your service cancelled your service — you can dial 911 on the cell-phone.

Doesn’t matter if you’ve never even had a service — you can still dial 911 on that phone.

Run over your allotted time limit? You can still dial 911.

The cell-phone company got you cut off until you pay them both legs, one arm and your first-born? You can still dial 911.

Yes, you can buy a pay-as-you-go phone — but never buy any minutes — and you can still dial 911.

The FCC requires all cell-phone services
to route any 911 call to a Public Safety Answering Point regardless of whether the caller subscribes or not.

Thank you for your attention.


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22 thoughts on “Your Attention, Please”

  1. Didn’t realize some of those points.

    So, that’s what my local Sheriff is doing with the cells I donated last year and the year before for the abuse shelters? Never thought about the fact that they just need the cell, not the paid service.

    I figured after my donation my tax $$ would have to pay for a service — it’s a better deal than I thought.

  2. Lawdog, one point to remember. In a short while (weeks rather than months IIRC) the old analog cellular network is going to be shut down, and only the more modern digital network will remain active. Individual service providers may leave their old analog transmitters operational for a while, but they don’t have to.

    This means that analog cellphones will no longer be able to call 911 (or any other number). If you want an emergency cellphone, best make sure it’s digital.

  3. Yup!
    When I got divorced I had to cancel my cell account because I couldn’t afford it. But still I kept the phone on its charger on my bedside table for emergencies. I never had to use it, but it’s the one phone in the house that can still dial 911 even if the lines are cut and the power is out.
    Now that the divorce is in the distant past, I have a new cellphone. But I also have an old AT&T “Touchtone” phone that doesn’t require AC power to function.

  4. LD-

    Thank you. As a dispatcher, I am frequently bothered by “junk” cell phones that “given to the baby to play with” that still had enough charge for the 9-1-1 speed dial to work.

    Also, folks should be aware that unlike hard wire phones, the ALI (automated location index) on cell phones will frequently show only the tower’s lat & long, not where they specifically are.

    It’s frustrating to know that a problem is occurring and not be able to send anyone to it.

  5. question about 911 on a cell… if you are in a different state than your phone number (and therefore all “local” calls are long distance) does 911 call local help, or help from the city where your cell phone number is? I would hate to actually need help and call someone states away because I didn’t know to add an area code!

  6. It should be noted that the 911 dispatcher you reach with any cell phone may not be the one nearest you. My aunt was a dispatcher for the Michigan State Police and routinely handled emergency calls for Detroit, because the syetm there and at that time was set up to route any emergency calls from cell phones to the MIStaPo, on the assumption that it involved a motorist in trouble on the Interstate. Here in WA, cell phone 911 calls are routed to the closest 911 center with an open line, which can lead to calling 911 in Seattle and getting Olympia!
    So somewhere in the first sentence of the call should be your location.

  7. The fun part is – as I learned the hard way once – where that 911 call might go to. I live well over 50 miles from Savannah and yet, guess where that call went to when calling from my hometown?

    It sure wasn’t the local 911 service. Chatham Dispatch told me that they automatically route to them and told me to call the local dispatch from a landline.


  8. My cousin got stopped in a bogus traffic violation in Virginia. Her cellphone was from New York. She dialed 911, and whoever she got through to took her information and called Dispatch at the point nearest to my cousin in Virginia.
    So there are some Dispatchers willing to go that extra mile-or several hundred.

  9. Arizona has been doing some smart stuff: if you’re on the highway and call 911, the call goes to the Department of Public Safety (“highway patrol” in other states).

    If you’re within the city of Tucson, for example, the call goes to the Tucson 911 center. Very snazzy.

    It doesn’t (or shouldn’t!) matter what the area code and number of your cellphone is — the routing decision is (or should be) based on where the call is actually originating from.

    One thing to be aware of: if you are using a cellphone without service (that is, without a number assigned to it), 911 will be unable to call you back if you are disconnected.

    On a different note, I had to call 911 a week or two ago when I was in the San Francisco Bay Area — three cars went “crunch” on the San Mateo Bridge.

    Rather than connecting immediately and ringing, the phone beeped at me for about 15 seconds after I hit “Send”. It has only done this when calling 911 — presumably to alert people if they accidentally dial the number. Still, somewhat annoying if I need to reach 911 RIGHT NOW, or if a loud noise would give away my location.

    CHP dispatch picked up on the second ring and was professional in all respects. The call went something like this:

    Dispatcher: 911, what’s your emergency?
    Me: I’d like to report an accident on the San Mateo Bridge.
    D: Which direction on the San Mateo Bridge?
    M: Eastbound.
    D: Where on the bridge?
    M: Just before the peak of the high-rise.
    D: What sort of accident?
    M: Three cars collided and are now stopped in the right lane. Light debris scattered in all lanes. I don’t know about any injuries — I was unable to stop safely.
    D: Thank you, sir. We already have it in our system. Do you have anything else to report?
    M: No, that’s it. Thank you.
    D: Goodbye.

    I’m surprised they had it in their system within 30 seconds of the accident occurring. Either way, I was most impressed.

    Fortunately, I have little need to call 911 on a regular basis — this was my first call in several years.

  10. Good to know, though after seeing/listening to the 911 call You-tube video posted at Joe’s Crabby Shack today (he got it from Michael Bane’s IIRC), I’ll be dialling 1911 and THEN 911…..

  11. “Thank you. As a dispatcher, I am frequently bothered by “junk” cell phones that ‘given to the baby to play with’ that still had enough charge for the 9-1-1 speed dial to work.”

    People that put in a speed button for 9-1-1 are morons. For a land line, 911 requires that you press but two buttons (one of them twice). For a cell or cordless phone, it requires three: 9, & 1 (twice), and Send (or “Talk).

    This is a very simple task that hundreds of thousands of people are able to accomplish every month without difficulty. How many seconds are you going to save by cutting 911 to one button? Um, NONE. How many frickin’ 911 hangups have I had to respond to in my career, only to find out that the speed dial button programmed with 911 had accidentally been pressed? Too numerous to count.

    And I PROMISE you that the extra 0.123 seconds gained by using a one-touch dialer over 9-1-1 is lost by the fact that the dispatcher is busy sending police car to yet another accidental 911 hangup, at the other end of your district. And the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” syndrome is alive and well. Ask me when the last time was that I sprinted for my patrol car upon being dispatched to a “911 HangUp” call. Answer: NEVER. I had long since learned before exiting my FTO training.

  12. I learned this one the hard way when my company changed the billing system on our test phones and cut service. 911 still worked, but nothing else would.

    I would like to hit on a few points raised here and shed some light on them if I could, I work for a wireless company and work with 911 call routing from time to time.

    As far as the analog networks go you’ve got to remember that there are a fairly large number of companies out there that all run different networks. If Cingular (or AT&T or Bellsouth Mobility or whatever they are this week) decides to turn down the analog network that is nearing 10 years old it doesn’t mean that Sprint, Verizon, or anyone else will do the same. Check with your provider if you’re still lugging around an old analog phone, most likely you’ve already been given a lot of notice if this applies to you. The guv’ment has OK’d the retirement of these systems, but when does that mean that carriers don’t have the option to carry on with them?

    As far as routing 911 goes I can only speak for the areas that I have worked in (WV and every south eastern state except for FL) and for the companies I have work routing calls for (no I ain’t gonna say who). Every site I have built routing for sends these 911 calls to the 911 center for the county that they sit in. If you get routed some 50 miles the other way then someone has screwed the routing and you need to report it so they can get it fixed. 911 trouble tickets get a lot of attention due to the nature of calls, and the legal fallout if your screwed up 911 routing ends up costing someone’s life.

    Lat/Long locations depend on a lot of different variables. Do you have a GPS enabled phone? Does the county you are calling in have a phase II 911 center? These are the two most common issues. The guv’ment mandated that X percentage of counties had to be phase II ready (GPS location of caller within X meters) a few years back, but it has been pushed back due to technical issues, and the amount of cash every county needed to pony up to upgrade the systems for these calls, and of course the amount of money carriers had to spend as well.

    One last thing for Matt, I agree with you, but you’ve got to remember that most phone makers coded 911 as speed dial #9 into the phone handsets for a long time. People are still using these old phones and most of them don’t even know that the speed dial is set up that way.

    I’ve rambled on long enough, I’d better get off the box and give someone else a turn now.

  13. Home defense advise from my CHL instructor. Have the pisol (preferably in a rapid access gun safe) have a flash light, and have a cell phone on a charger, all near your bedside. His advise, before you do anything else, call 911.

  14. FWIW, in 2000 I was in Rocky Mountain National Park and happened upon an injured party, too large for any good samaritan to realistically move. Called 911 and got Aurora, CO dispatch (on the far side of Denver, 70 miles away) who had no easy means of transferring my call to the Park Service people — but they gave me the number for park HQ.

    After a direct call to park HQ, an ambulance was dispatched and they hauled the injured party off to the hospital to have a shattered ankle redone. Got a card some months later from the injured party, thanking me for making (what ended up as a $14.00) phone call to get help.

    The moral? 911 might not work perfectly, but the dispatcher on the other end will do their best to help!

  15. Niteshift:

    It doesn;t matter what service your old analog cell phone was with. As you say, Cell Phone Company A may take their analog system offline the instant the FCC allows it, Cell Phone Company B may leave it on for years (but don’t bet on ANY analog services wtill being active after 1 March, the few customers who still have analog only phones and refuse to change to digital won’t even pay the light bills in the service nodes.).

    HOWEVER, it doesn’t matter where YOUR phone came from — it’s only whether or not there is ANY analog tower that can pick up your signal.

    Given teh rediculaously inexpensive cost of a digital cell phone that isn;t “active”, if someone still has an “emergency” analog cell they keep “just for 911”, tell them to hit eBay, search “cell phones”, and set a max dollar amount of $10.

  16. Not to bag on anyone who is stuck with an analog-only phone; but, really, how common is that (outside of OnStar, due to a really shortsighted decision on GMs part).

    I know you could get digital phones as early as 2001, and I believe earlier. If I recall correctly, Sprint has always been all-digital; and likewise verizon since it started up as Verizon Wireless. These are the only national carriers who even include analog backup in their phones – the GSM carriers have had to maintain a network that their customers can’t even use! (GSM being incompatible enough with Analog that it would require an entirely separate radio in the handset).

    The odds are good that anything newer than a motorola Startac is a digital phone

  17. This is really important information. I am posting it on my blog in the hopes tat I can help spread it to the 14 or 15 people that read my stuff.

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