CLOSINGS: View Closings

WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: Pinpointing 911 cell calls

WAAY 31's I-Team Investigation found that many cell phone calls to 911 centers are difficult to locate. So, we worked to find out what you should do during an emergency.

Posted: Jul 3, 2018 10:02 AM
Updated: Jul 3, 2018 10:49 AM

A WAAY 31 I-Team investigation looked into why 911 operators don't automatically know the exact location of some wireless callers.


The emergency call system has its roots in north Alabama with the first 911 call ever originating in Haleyville in 1968.

Decades later, operators don’t always know the location when cell callers phone in an emergency.

A WAAY 31 viewer had that experience happen to her in Huntsville after she stared down the barrel of a gun.

WAAY 31 started doing some digging into the limitations of the system and how it’s improving.

Providence Village is the last place she thought this would happen. "I was leaving work in the back parking lot,” Diane Hilpert told WAAY 31.

Hilpert says time stood still.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she told us. “I was trying to do just what he wanted me to do.”

A criminal demanded her car. “He had a gun,” Hilpert said.

Diane Hilpert

But the robber settled for her purse.

“Finally, he grabbed my purse and he just ran off – thankfully,” she said.

Hilpert called 911.

She thought with today’s technology they’d automatically know where to send help.

“I asked her if anyone was on their way,” Hilpert explained. “And she says, ‘Ma’am I need a physical address.’ And I couldn’t find one.”

Hilpert called less than a mile from the Huntsville-Madison County 911 center.

WAAY 31 asked. But, no one there called us back to explain how the 911 location process works or wanted to answer our questions when I showed up.

So we took our questions to Marshall County.

Dispatcher at Marshall County 9-1-1 Center

“It has gotten better obviously,” Jason Nix told WAAY 31. “Not 100%. But, it has obviously gotten better.”

Nix is the operations manager for the Marshall County 911 Center.

Jason Nix, Marshall County 9-1-1

Nix knows pinpointing cell phone callers has been a work in progress. And he says the work is paying off.

“It used to be very difficult to know where a cell phone was,” Nix told us. “Then we got to where we got an address, but the address we got was the actual cell tower that the cell phone was hitting off of.”

Marshall County’s is one of about 6,500 emergency call centers across the US.

The National Emergency Number Association told WAAY 31 these centers take about 240-million 911 calls every year.

Much of the system was built decades ago for land lines. Now the association estimates as many as 80 percent of 911 calls come from mobile phones.

And the Federal Communications Commission says improving location services for 911 could save as many as 10,000 lives a year.

Today, locating cell phone callers is getting better. Apple and Google have joined the effort to help by combining data on your device with cell tower information to better pinpoint a 911 caller’s location. But the work is far from finished.

“The best advice we can give is to try to always know your location,” Nix said.

In April, at the Waffle House shooting in Nashville, location information did not go through to 911 dispatchers. The caller didn’t know the street address. So, at first, police went to another Waffle House on the same street.

Nix says callers can help 911 dispatchers save time which may save lives.

“Look at the cross streets,” Nix advised. “Because if we get a call and somebody says they’re on Highway 431, that’s a very long road.”

One example is along Highway 431 in Marshall County. There are three McDonald’s restaurants in three different cities.

If an out-of-town caller tells dispatchers there’s a medical emergency at McDonald’s, it could be happening in Boaz, Albertville or Guntersville.

But, getting the street address could be a life saver.

For example, in Albertville, dispatchers would know to send help to 7375 Highway 431.

McDonald's on Highway 431 in Albertville

And Nix points out even when dispatchers are trying to figure out where you are, first responders are already on the move.

“The majority of time, when we’re talking to someone on the telephone, someone else is dispatching the call,” Nix told us. “So, just because we’re asking you a lot of questions does not mean that help’s not on the way.”

And that fast response matters.

“20, 25 seconds can save a life," Nix said.

Diane Hilpert saw firsthand that 911 callers are reaching out for help on one of the worst days of their lives. “It was pretty scary,” she said.

Click to Submit Photo

 

 

Huntsville
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 56°
Florence
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 57°
Fayetteville
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 54°
Decatur
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 56°
Scottsboro
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 63°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22988375
Mobile16788315
Tuscaloosa10235140
Montgomery9978197
Madison922894
Shelby727463
Baldwin661569
Lee651765
Marshall437249
Calhoun422461
Etowah421450
Morgan407135
Houston371734
DeKalb336029
Elmore317353
St. Clair289142
Limestone279730
Walker275593
Talladega263635
Cullman239925
Lauderdale218042
Jackson212515
Franklin203231
Autauga203030
Colbert198731
Russell19283
Blount191125
Dallas186327
Chilton185832
Coffee173211
Escambia172230
Covington171429
Dale166551
Chambers134343
Clarke133617
Pike132713
Tallapoosa131387
Marion107129
Barbour10129
Butler100240
Marengo100222
Winston91913
Geneva8617
Lawrence83732
Pickens83618
Bibb82514
Randolph82016
Hale75830
Clay73612
Washington73412
Cherokee73114
Lowndes70428
Monroe64510
Henry6436
Bullock63917
Crenshaw60330
Perry5856
Fayette56913
Wilcox56412
Conecuh56013
Cleburne5518
Macon53020
Lamar4745
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 241513

Reported Deaths: 3076
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby35564562
Davidson30982333
Knox1239889
Rutherford11502113
Hamilton11497105
Williamson689756
Sumner5900109
Wilson457756
Putnam432955
Montgomery408052
Out of TN390636
Madison371180
Sullivan354046
Bradley351923
Washington332649
Sevier329921
Blount327334
Maury316437
Unassigned28378
Robertson257741
Hamblen242248
Tipton230922
Dyer216329
Gibson212342
Hardeman185433
Coffee183223
Trousdale17587
Obion173021
Greene165451
Bedford165020
Fayette165022
Anderson164614
Dickson163619
McMinn158934
Loudon158811
Cumberland158425
Wayne15847
Lawrence155618
Jefferson152920
Weakley151125
Carter149532
Monroe141928
Warren141510
Lauderdale140417
Henderson139825
Hardin137519
Macon130725
Franklin126317
Roane12577
Haywood125327
Overton118416
Hawkins117024
White115014
Johnson11277
Carroll112525
McNairy111127
Marshall11089
Rhea108317
Cheatham103111
Cocke101412
Bledsoe10104
Lake9803
Smith97613
Campbell9759
Giles93735
Fentress88910
Lincoln8523
Crockett82920
Henry77110
Hickman76715
Marion7419
Chester72114
DeKalb71117
Decatur64811
Grainger5664
Grundy54511
Union5233
Claiborne5146
Polk49213
Jackson4465
Humphreys4344
Morgan4317
Benton4119
Cannon4042
Houston40417
Unicoi3953
Clay39413
Lewis3752
Scott3625
Sequatchie3384
Stewart3179
Meigs3066
Perry2772
Pickett2627
Moore2592
Van Buren2011
Hancock1153

Community Events