Cell phones can pose problems for 911 dispatchers

WICHITA, Kansas – Sedgwick County dispatchers were on the phone yesterday, trying to calm a female caller who frantically called 911 after a 1-year-old toddler had been shot.

As dispatchers tried to get more information about the incident, they did encounter some issues.

The caller was calling in from a cell phone, which dispatch can’t get an exact location from, because it isn’t tied to an exact address.

Sedgwick County 911 handles approximately 660,000 calls a year.

Close to 76 percent of those calls come from someone using a cell phone.

Vanessa Downing has been a call taker for Sedgwick County 911 for 25 years.

She says cell phones pose the biggest struggle, compared to the days when someone who call 911 using a land line phone.

“Where when someone called 9-1-1 we knew exactly where they were calling from,” said Downing.

With cell phones now replacing the use of a land line, dispatchers have to depend on GPS from cell phones.

The technology will give dispatchers a general location, but can’t pinpoint the exact location of the caller.

911 Deputy Director Elora Randleas says even this process has a five second delay.

“Generally, it takes five seconds to get a phase 2, what we call a phase 2 or XY coordinate off their cell phone that’s based on their GPS,” said Randleas.

The state of Kansas is trying to update its antiquated system by going towards Next Generation 911.

“The by-product of moving into our next generation technology is to be able to receive text messages pictures messages, videos, anything you can send from a cell phone at some point the goal of the 911 center is to be able to receive that information,” said Randleas.

Currently, the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council has a five year strategic plan to put forth all facets of Next Generation 911.

For now, Randleas advises those who call 911 from a cell phone to be able to give general information over the phone.

This includes geographical location, landmarks, or nearby businesses in order to better pinpoint a location.

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