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The 411 on Mobile 911 Calls
September 26th, 2016

The 411 on Mobile 911 Calls

Hailee Franco

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 70% of 911 calls are placed on mobile phones. However, making an emergency call from a mobile phone is not like the movies. Mobile phones don’...

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 70% of 911 calls are placed on mobile phones. However, making an emergency call from a mobile phone is not like the movies. Mobile phones don’t pinpoint your exact location, meaning the dispatcher still needs you tell them your location. This is because mobile phones are not grounded to a fixed location.

So do 911 calls on a mobile phone work?

FCC Regulations for mobile phone providers

Mobile phones use a system called E-911 to help pinpoint the caller’s location. The FCC mandates this capability, requiring providers to transmit a 911 call regardless of the service package purchased for the phone. Also required is specific information regarding the call to transmit when dialing 911.

Transmission Phase 1

FCC rules require providers to give the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) the caller’s phone number and identify the tower transmitting the call.

Transmission Phase 2

The rules require providers to share with the PSAP the latitude and longitude of the call, to more accurately pinpoint the emergency location. It is important to note, these FCC rules only apply to calls made outdoors.

The anatomy of a mobile 911 call

When an emergency occurs, there are several steps the call passes through before emergency responders learn the location.

  1. During Phase 1, the mobile provider identifies the phone number and transmission tower.
  2. In Phase 2 the caller’s latitude and longitude are pinpointed. (Mobile phones must be Phase 2 compliant for this to occur.)
  3. The call is sent to a location database determining which PSAP the call should be routed.
  4. The call goes to the correct PSAP and connects with a 911 dispatcher.
  5. The 911 dispatcher determines the location and type of emergency.
  6. Emergency personnel is dispatched to the scene.

What you should know

  • PSAP’s can not receive text messages, pictures, or videos.
  • Before declaring your emergency tell the dispatcher the address or location of the emergency.
  • Mobile service can be spotty. Give the dispatcher your phone number so they can reach you if the call is lost.
  • When service is not available, attempt the 911 call anyway. The FCC requires all service providers to transmit emergency calls even if a phone isn’t using their network. This means, there may be service available from a different provider and your call will go through.

How can 911 improve

The future of 911 calls may incorporate software called Next Generation 911. This IP-based technology enables dispatchers to accept photos, videos, and text messages sent from mobile phones. Next Gen has a better GPS tracking feature for emergency calls. This system is an effort by the 911 system to keep up with fast-changing commercial technologies.

Give yourself the best chance to reach safety in an emergency by understanding 911 mobile phone call basics. It could save your life, or that of someone you love.


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