WVAC 911: What landlines can do that cell phones cannot

You may think that getting rid of your telephone landline is a great idea because you will save money, not miss any calls and avoid having multiple phone numbers. In addition, you may feel safe and secure knowing you have a phone with you at all times should you or someone else need help. However, there are two important factors you should be aware of that pertain to the most critical call you may ever make — calling 911.
Ten years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine in 10 households had a landline phone. Today, only every second household has a landline. There is reason to believe the majority of U.S. households could be without a landline phone as early as this year. In 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that “more than a quarter of U.S. households have ditched landline phones, a trend driven by younger Americans relying on their cell phones, according to Census Bureau data released … just 71% of households had landlines in 2011, down from a little more than 96% 15 years ago.”
So why is this a dangerous concern? It is dangerous for two reasons:


When a 911 call made from a landline is received by the dispatch center, the exact address of where the call is coming from appears on the dispatcher’s screen. That same call made from a cell phone does not provide emergency dispatchers with the caller’s exact location. Instead, and this is where it gets scary, dispatchers may only be able to determine the location of the cell tower the call happens to be bouncing off. Depending on where you are, that cell tower could be altogether in a neighboring state.
The next piece of information the dispatcher receives is an estimate of where the call might be coming from. Eventually, dispatch may receive meters and percentages pertaining to the caller’s possible location. For example, if the dispatch system thinks you are at 123 Main Street, the screen may also show “Meters: 120 Percent: 80.” What this means is that it is believed with an 80% guess that you are within a 120-meter perimeter of 123 Main Street.
Therefore, when calling 911 from a cell phone, it is crucial to relay the following information to the 911 operators:

  • City.

  • County.

  • Correct address.

  • Your cell phone number in case the call gets disconnected.


This is all contingent upon the caller’s ability to be able to speak. Imagine a scenario in which you are home alone and begin to choke. When a person is choking severely, they are unable to speak. However, they can still dial 911 and simply leave the phone on. Any calls received by 911 where contact cannot be made with the caller will trigger the emergency response system and first responders will be dispatched to the address the call is coming from. The same protocol applies to cell phone calls; however, your location may be quite difficult to pinpoint and precious time may be lost — time that could mean the difference between life and death. Other scenarios could play out with individuals with speech or intellectual disabilities, or a child who knows how to dial 911 but isn’t old enough to correctly provide the 911 operator with his address.
In an emergency, every second counts. Always call 911 from a landline whenever possible. Your life or the life of someone else may depend on it. Remember, a landline may be your only lifeline.




Information: wiltonambulance.org.