The Dangers Of Cutting That Landline

By: Karen Todd
By: Karen Todd

Is your cell phone your only phone? Nationwide about 60,000 people have cut the cord on their old home phones. But is it a safe bet?

It is appealing idea for many people to have all of their calls directed to one telephone that can be carried anywhere.

But, if you call 911, your cell phone can leave you at a dangerous disadvantage.

Abandoning a home phone is a choice many are making . . . especially singles in their 20's and 30's. A typical wireless-only customer is Jason Wilt: "I can take it with me. I'm accessible everywhere. It's quite a convenience".

But dispatchers at the Emergency Dispatch Center say it's not a convenience when you call 911.

"The landline provides us information on the subscriber. The address and the phone number," says Susan Harris the Director of Emergency Communications.

Thatinformation automatically comes up on the dispatcher's computer screen.

But if you call 911 from a cell phone - depending on which service you have - dispatchers may get your phone number or they may not get any information at all . . . except the name of your carrier.

In that case, more information has to be subpeonaed.

"In the event of an emergency, the time it takes to get a subpeona and get it back could be the difference between life and death," Harris says.

And, she says, there are other factors to consider.

"What happens if your phone is dead? What happens if you're unsure of your location? What happens if you're choking and you can't talk and all you can do is dial 911?" aska Harris.

Technology called "Enhanced 911" for cell phones is getting better. Here in Northern Nevada we are in what's called Phase-One of Enhanced 911, which means most carriers give dispatchers access to cell phone callers numbers.

But, Harris says, for many callers it's not enough. "If she can't tell us where she is.. we can't help her.. We have no way of helping her."

When Phase-Two goes into effect it will allow dispatchers access to x and y coordinates as well. That will allow them to better determine where 911 calls are coming from, using either GPS technology or triangulation which determines approximate location using three cell towers.

Yet it's not perfect.

Still, some people who've dumped their land lines say they'll take their chances.

"Conveniences far outweigh any emergency aspect of it," Wilt says.

According to the Regional Dispatch Center, Cricket and Sprint are still testing their Phase One Enhanced 911 technology. That means the phone numbers of Cricket and Sprint customers who call 911do not show up on the dispatcher's computer screen.

Harris also says it's important to ask your wireless carrier if they use "hybrid" technology. That means when phase 2 goes into effect they'll use both GPS technology and triangulation to locate 9-1-1 callers.


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