911 call systems improving; cell phones untraceable

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- Calling 911 from a cell phone might not get you help right away even though 911 systems continue to evolve.

Ninety percent of the 911/emergency calls that come into Clay Communications Dispatch are from cell phones, which means 90 percent of the calls are untraceable.

Operators can only pinpoint your location based on a cell phone tower, which could be miles away from where your emergency is.

"If it's a life or death, if we know the cell phone company, we can sometimes get them to ping the call and they can give us a general area, but again it's not going to say they are at this address," said Lori Leroy, Clay Communication Officer.

That's why knowing your exact location and being able to relay that to a dispatch operator is crucial.

"It could take up to 10 or 15 minutes to get through to the cell phone company, start the process and they will usually call us back within five minutes with the coordinates of where they are at, it is a process" said Leroy.

And even then, officers will only get coordinates in proximity to where you could be and if the cell phone is off, all bets of finding you through GPS are off too. If you have a prepaid phone there is no way to track you same goes for cell phones that do not actively have service.

"Some parents give their kids their cell phones when they get a new cell phone and if they turn that service off, they can still call 911 but it comes up with what we call a 911 area code and we again, have no way to trace that call," added Leroy.

Upgrades to the 911 system have improved location tracking for calls made on smartphones, but for now, relaying your exact location is the best guarantee you'll get help.

"It is getting better, but it's still not precise," added Leroy.

Clay County is implementing an upgraded 911 system next week. Dispatch is now asking cell phone callers for their home addresses to be entered in a local database. The next time there is a call to 911 from that number, dispatch will have at least one address associated with the number.


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