The First Thing You Should Say When Calling 911 on a Mobile Phone

In the frenzy of a real emergency, it can be hard to think straight. Yes, it’s important to give your name and explain the situation when you call 911, but there’s some things you should tell them first if you’re calling from a mobile phone, just in case.

When you dial 911 with a cell phone, the call gets picked up by a nearby emergency services call center known as a public safety answering point (PSAP). They get your information then dispatch emergency personnel to your location. But sometimes things don’t work the way they’re supposed to.

For one, J.D. Biersdorfer at The New York Times explains that because mobile phones are not associated with a fixed location or address like landlines, they are difficult to track down. The FCC says they might be able to see the location of the nearest cell tower, but that’s not enough to pinpoint where you are. And time lost tracking you down could be the difference between life and death. Additionally, some wireless carriers have had issues with emergency calls in the past. Recently, AT&T wireless users in 14 states lost the ability to make 911 calls for several hours. And Verizon Wireless had a similar outage back in 2014.

Needless to say, emergency calls are just as prone to drops, outages, called ID confusion, and other mobile phone issues as any other call. That’s why, when you make a 911 call with your cell phone, your exact location and your phone number should be the first bit of information you give in case you are disconnected. No matter what, some sort of emergency personnel can be dispatched to where you are, and they can call you back if need be.

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