Make Sure 911 Can Locate You in an Emergency
Tom Kerr writing on location in an emergency…
When I lived in Miami, I knew a woman named Claire who was a dispatcher at the city’s emergency call center. She told me over drinks one night that a guy had called that afternoon to report that his cat climbed up the telephone pole and would not come down.
“He wanted us to dispatch a ladder truck and fire crew to the scene,” Claire told me. “But I had to explain that the fire department doesn’t handle those calls and that he needed to contact Animal Control.”
A half-hour later the cat owner called back, disguising his voice in the hope that the operator wouldn’t recognize him. “That time,” Claire said, “he told the dispatcher that he needed to report a fire that broke out on top of a telephone pole.”
Obviously, he didn’t realize that his full address and phone number popped up on the screen every time dialed 911, so the dispatchers knew exactly who was calling.
But if your address does not show up on the 911 map in an emergency…that’s no laughing matter.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 70% of 911 calls are now made from cell phones, and callers mistakenly assume that dispatchers know exactly where they are. But oftentimes they only know where the nearest cell tower is located, and it could be miles away from your actual location.
That leaves emergency responders hunting for a needle in a gigantic haystack. Claire taught me that whenever you place a 911 call, you should always provide your location first – even before you describe the emergency and give other details. That way they can at least find you if the line gets disconnected or you are no longer able to communicate because you are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.
Yes, some call centers can track your phone’s GPS coordinates. But many across the U.S. do not yet have that capability and technology, and that kind of critical infrastructure may not be deployed for years.
If you want to avoid the trouble of remembering to give your location when you call in – or, perhaps, you want to avoid a mistake in case you get in trouble on unfamiliar grounds – I’ve found the perfect solution. And it’s something you can do today, when you don’t have to worry about the heightened emotional tension of an emergency.
There is a new smartphone app that lets you relay your location to 911 dispatchers quickly and accurately. The company is RapidSOS, and their app is called “Haven.” You can find and download it from sources like the Apple app store and Google Play.
You just open an account, enter your phone number, verify some information, download the app, and it’s deployed. In an emergency, you just tap on the app and it will connect you to the nearest 911 call center while also sending along your location. Even if you have no idea where you are, the app will track you and share that data with the dispatcher. If you are unable to talk, you can communicate with the dispatcher via text messaging.
This is a tremendously necessary stopgap while we wait for emergency services to develop a more sophisticated and geographically precise way to respond to 911 calls from smartphones.
As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have shown us, we need to take some responsibility for ourselves in a crisis.
So, make sure you have a ready plan like the one offered by the Haven App.
I certainly don’t want you to wind up in the same predicament as that pole-climbing cat in Miami.
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