KTEN Investigates: Can 911 find you? - KTEN.com - Texoma news, weather and sports

KTEN Investigates: Can 911 find you?

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Chad Allen is Denison's communications supervisor. (KTEN) Chad Allen is Denison's communications supervisor. (KTEN)
A 911 call from a cell phone displays as an icon on a map at the dispatch center, but the location isn't always accurate. (KTEN) A 911 call from a cell phone displays as an icon on a map at the dispatch center, but the location isn't always accurate. (KTEN)
Van Alstyne emergency dispatcher Amanda Brock urges callers to be able to describe their precise location. (KTEN) Van Alstyne emergency dispatcher Amanda Brock urges callers to be able to describe their precise location. (KTEN)

GRAYSON COUNTY, Texas -- In emergency situations, it can be hard to remain calm and think clearly.

When you dial 911, what happens if dispatchers can't locate you? How long will it be before help can reach you?

Dispatchers around Grayson County say most people don't know how the 911 system works. When there is an emergency, there is crucial information you need to relay. Even though using a cell phone provides information to locate the caller, that data is not always instantaneous.

"Cell phones give us a radius, so depending on that -- and getting a 'ping' from the cell phone company -- maybe 10 minutes," explained Van Alstyne dispatcher Amanda Brock.

Here's how it works: If you call 911 with a land line, dispatchers can see the address you are calling from right on their screen.

But if you call with a cell phone, the location displayed can vary depending on your cell phone carrier. That's why the dispatcher tries to be very clear about where to send help.

"I'm going to ask you your location and your phone number -- even though I have it -- because it's technology, so it could be wrong," Denison communications supervisor Chad Allen said.

KTEN tested the accuracy of 911 calls using two different cell phones -- one from Verizon and the other from AT&T. The test was conducted in two different locations: Downtown Denison  and a more rural part of the city.

When we called from downtown, dispatchers pinpointed both AT&T and Verizon calls to our exact location, in the 200 block of West Main Street.

But when we called from a less urban location, the AT&T call initially appeared on the dispatcher's screen as the location of the cell tower, not where we were standing.

So the emergency center had to track our call again, and after about 30 seconds they were able to find the general area that we were calling from, the 3600 block of Highland Drive.

"Any time you have a delay -- whether it's trying to find out your location -- that obviously takes time on getting police, fire, EMS to your location," Allen said.

To avoid any confusion at a critical moment, it's always best to be able to tell a dispatcher where you are.

"I drill it into my kid's head: 'Know where you are, know your surroundings,'" Brock said.

And if you aren't familiar with the area you're calling from, be prepared to describe a landmark around you.

"There's people that still call and say, 'We're out here by old man Smith's house... the one that burnt down.' We're like, 'We don't know where that is,'" Allen said.

And a lesson all dispatchers want you to remember: Be patient.

"It's just prioritizing the emergencies," Brock said. "Everybody has them; we just need to prioritize them, and being patient while we can get to everybody."

In an emergency, you can also use the Text-to-911 method in many areas -- including Grayson County -- if you are ever in a situation where you can't talk.  If Text-to-911 doesn't work in your location, you'll get a message back right away to call instead.

Dispatchers also want you to know that if you accidentally call 911, you're not in trouble, but be sure to remain on the line to let them know that help is not needed at that location.

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