“We’re behind the coffee shop downtown.”
That’s not how you would describe your location to a taxi or delivery driver, goes the “Know Your Location” campaign from E-Comm 911. But it is the way a woman described her location to a 911 call taker after a gas explosion.
“If we can’t find you, we can’t help you,” the campaign radio ads ends.
Knowing your location is even more important when calling 911 from a cellphone, the dispatch service provider said in a release on Dec. 9.
Nearly three-quarters of 911 calls in B.C. now originate from cellphones. And while movies, social media geotagging and delivery apps that show location in real-time may make it seem like cellphones provide an exact address to 911 call takers, that is not yet the case.
“While calls from landlines give us a person’s exact whereabouts, information from cellphones is nowhere as precise,” E-Comm Director of Public Safety Initiatives Ryan Lawson said.
“Because location is determined by cell tower triangulation, it’s generally narrowed down to within a block of where someone is calling. That’s helpful, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for our staff to work with callers to find out exactly where they are so first responders can get to them as fast as possible.”
If you don’t know your exact location, 911 call taker Madison Sheane said there is other information you can provide, such as compass directions or landmarks.
“When you call 911, my job is to get you the help you need as quickly as possible,” Sheane said.
“You can help me do that faster by answering my questions, including knowing your building or home address, the streets or landmarks you are near and your compass directions.”
Lawson said new 911 technology being developed — the North American-wide initiative Next Generation 9-1-1 — is expected to allow for improvements in the future.
“In the coming years, we’ll see calls delivered to 911 with more precise location and additional information about the caller, the device being used and the location from which it is calling. This means call takers will spend less time trying to determine where the emergency is taking place and dispatchers will be able to make better decisions on what resources to dispatch and where,” he said.
“Until then, ‘what is your location’ will always be the first question our staff ask.”