Several times each week, area first responders are dispatched on calls when children dial 911 from disconnected cellphones.
By law, phone carriers must allow these calls to go through. This allows people whose service has been disconnected a way to call for help.
Unfortunately, many people give their old phones to children to play games or use as a toy. Remember: If they dial 911 on your old phone, you could get a visit from law enforcement and be held responsible for a false alarm.
Here are some tips on using cellphones in an emergency:
Use a landline if possible. Cellphones can’t accurately pinpoint your location. FCC rules require nationwide carriers to provide tracking capabilities to 911 dispatchers that are accurate within 50-300 meters (164 to 984 feet), depending on the technology the carrier uses.
That could mean up to a 984-foot radius (not quite three times the length of a football field), which could result in a difficult search in high-density areas. FCC rules also allow up to six minutes to determine a location. If you can imagine how far a car can travel in six minutes, you’ll see how that could be problematic.
Recent updates to Android and iPhone operating systems have improved smartphones’ ability to automatically share exact locations with emergency dispatchers, but this technology doesn’t cover older or non-smart phones.
If you call 911 from a cellphone and hang up, operators will attempt to return your call to follow up. If they can’t retrieve your number, they are likely to send an officer to your estimated location, which may not be accurate.
If you do use a cellphone to call 911:
- Provide your location as near as you are able and the type of assistance you need.
- Try to stay calm and speak clearly.
If you need to call 911, you can use any smartphone even if you can’t unlock it. Here’s how:
- Press the home button to launch the screen that asks for a passcode or fingerprint.
- In the bottom lower left of the screen, tap “Emergency”
- Dial 911
In some areas, you can text 911. Hinds county added the service in 2015. If you think you might need to text 911, contact the local police department to see if the service is provided.
Smart speakers, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home cannot call 911, but iPhone’s Siri and Android’s Google can. Check with your carrier or vendor to see if you have tie-in options for your home system.