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Why CUB continues the fight for landlines

Can you count on your cellphone carrier to save your life?

When you dial 911 from a cellphone, most consumers may expect dispatchers to immediately know their location. However, current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules only require your carrier to provide location data that is accurate within 50-300 meters, according to Safety.com. And the regulator only requires location data of 70 percent of calls.

In an emergency situation where a person in distress cannot talk, for whatever reason, precious minutes and seconds may be spent searching a 1,000-foot area that could be spent addressing the emergency.

Currently, 911 operators are not always able to pinpoint the exact location of an emergency call from a cellphone, which they are able to do with a landline call. As CUB likes to remind consumers, traditional phone service doesn’t need to be charged, and it doesn’t leave 911 dispatchers guessing.

According to Safety.com, recent updates to the Android and iPhone operating systems have improved smartphones’ ability to share more exact locations with dispatchers, “but this technology doesn’t cover non-smart phones or ones that are out of date.”

A new emergency response system — Next Generation 911, often referred to as NG911 or Enhanced 911 — is emerging to correct the location issues with cellphone 911 calls. The new system will offer advanced mapping and location services, and consumers will be able to text 911 and send images and video to dispatchers as well. 

The state is working its way toward Next Generation 911. Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that Illinois would receive a $5.3 million grant to upgrade 911 call centers to Next Generation 911 capabilities.

However, NG911 isn’t accessible everywhere yet, and until then, traditional landlines remain the most reliable and most accurate in the case of an emergency. To verify if your community has Next Generation 911, contact your local police station using its non-emergency number. 

If you have to call 911, keep these tips in mind. 

  • Use a landline phone to dial, if available.
  • As soon as someone answers, provide your exact location and explain what type of assistance is needed. The quicker you can provide vital information, the sooner help can arrive.
  • Remain calm and speak clearly. Your mobile connection may be spotty, and background noise could impede communication as well.