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HOW DOES 911 WORK?

By CHELLE CORDERO, Correspondent | August 01, 2021 | NEW YORK

Story No. 062121112

The tones go off and dispatch puts out a call for an ambulance. Luckily, MOST times you have a fairly good idea of what you will be dealing with when you arrive on scene…most times. Sometimes the information is on-point, but sometimes maybe the caller communicated the wrong info, or the 911-operator was unable to hear the caller clearly due to a speech impediment, or even if the caller used a cellphone and the correct location wasn’t picked-up.

Since 1999 when the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act took effect, 911, and later E-911 (enhanced), became the mainstay of our nation’s emergency response numbers, people have dialed 911 for medical emergencies, accidents, fires, and crimes. (Unfortunately, 911 has also been inundated at times with many NON-emergency calls.) In New York State most counties operate a single 911-call center called a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) to sort through the myriad of requests for emergency response and direct them to the appropriate agency when known. If the system is an Enhanced-911, the caller’s phone number and location pops up on the screen; all landlines contacting an E-911 system will have their addresses visible.

Since 1999 was well before the plethora of cellphones being used, no one had thought about the capability of pinpointing a caller’s location from a cell-phone — it was seriously lacking. Under the FCC's wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) rules, the FCC requires wireless carriers, within six months of a valid request by a PSAP, to begin providing information that is more precise to PSAPs, specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. The deployment of E911 requires the development of new technologies and upgrades to local 911 PSAPs, as well as coordination among public safety agencies, wireless carriers, technology vendors, equipment manufacturers, and local wireline carriers.

However, despite the efficiency of our public 911 system in our country and especially in NYS, there are those who find the telephone difficult to use in an emergency. There are various apps to help ALL to reach emergency services and, more importantly, to ensure the appropriate service is called and resources are not delayed (such as police investigating a “silent” 911 call to find out the actual emergency). Sometimes someone is unable to talk, sometimes they are too scared to talk (such as a home invasion), and a myriad of other reasons.

There are multiple smartphone apps available where those in need can call and emergency response is dispatched; while there is often a nominal subscription fee for use, there may also be other services attached. Some of these apps include: Rescu Emergency Alert, ICE Medical Standard app, Medical ID app, Siren GPS, EMNet findERnow, and My3. Among the added features some of these apps offer are GPS tracking, notifying emergency contacts, and forwarding your medical records. Some areas, including New York City, now support Text-to-911 services although the FCC still maintains that voice-calling 911 is still the more reliable and expedient way to reach emergency services. (And yes, it is just as illegal to send a phony text as it is to prank call 911 services.) If you try texting in an unsupported area, your text will be bounced back and undelivered.

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.