911 Dispatchers: Know where you are when you call for help

By KBJR News 1

July 30, 2014 Updated Jul 30, 2014 at 8:00 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Dispatchers in St. Louis County say they have a problem that happens every day when people call 911.

"People just really don't know where they're at," said Communications Center Supervisor Dewey Johnson.

Johnson says every day a caller reports an emergency without knowing where they are.

"If they really don't know where they're at, it could take up to minutes to find out where that person is and the location," said Johnson, "In a medical situation where seconds count, those [minutes] could really make a difference."

Dispatcher Jeff Hunt, on the job for 25 years, says the problem is rooted in the abundant use of cell phones.

"Back when I started, about 95–percent or more of our calls were land–based calls, where you'd get the automatic location and it was, it was, very accurate," said Hunt, "Now, I would say it's about completely reversed. I would guess that 90-percent or more of our calls are wireless calls."

While GPS technology allows dispatchers to track a person's phone, they say that only narrows it down. In cases where a person doesn't know their exact location, dispatchers must ask them questions to determine where to send emergency crews.

"Without that address you really can't get the call in for help," said Johnson.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules require that wireless providers must pinpoint the latitude and longitude of a caller within 64 to 984 feet.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.