On Your Side: Can 911 locate your wireless emergency call?

Local News

“I can remember when I started here, when someone got a cell phone call, we would all stand up and go, ‘I got one, I got one!’ Because they were so rare and so far between, and now it’s almost to the point… ‘I got a landline,'” said Knox County 911 Coordinator Tonya Cum. 

More than 90 percent of the 2,000 calls made to the Knox County 911 Center every day are wireless calls. 

“I’ve been here 24 years so when I originally started, we had physical phones on the desk. You had to push the button, say, ‘Knox County 911 where’s your emergency?'” said Cum.

Al of that is automated now. They can find you, but it’s a matter of how precise that location is. 

“The only thing with a landline is we get an exact physical location,” Cum said. “With a wireless call, we get GPS coordinates.” 

Those coordinates are only guaranteed 95 percent of the time within 100 yards of the wireless caller. That means if it’s life or death, the one thing that can help get you assistance is your location. 

“The location is the most important information we can get,” Cum said. “We can send you the world if we know where you’re at. I can’t send you anything if I don’t know where you are.” 

“Times have changed when you call 911. Now it comes up on the screen from your carrier with the information and will tell us where you’re calling from,” said Knox County 911 Executive Director Alan Bull. “Most of the time that’s good enough. If you’re in an apartment complex, maybe not.”

Bull says whatever you do, don’t hang up. 

“There’s a good chance we already know, but we’re going to give you a chance to verify it [your address] because you don’t want to bet your life that the technology is right.” 

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