Not all cell phone calls to 911 relay your location

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FERGUSON, MO (KPLR) – St. Louis County plans to dedicate its new 911 Communication Center this week. But despite the new technology the public often expects more than it actually delivers. That is the case at times with cell phones when residents use them to call 911.

The county's 911 Coordinator Tom McCormick explains cell phones send signals to a cell tower but that tower might not be closest to the 911 center that dispatches for your Police Department.

A young woman facing an abusive situation last week used her cell phone to call 911. She said she expected the police to know exactly where she was. But that was not the case. "The dispatcher called me back and he said I heard you guys arguing in the background, but I couldn't hear your address." She had whispered her address fearing the man would break her phone if he knew she had called the police. She says police officers never showed up at her home.

The county's multiple municipalities and Police Departments contract with different dispatch centers. There are 20 of them including the one St. Louis County operates. Variations in equipment at the dispatch centers and the cell phone companies can influence the ability to pinpoint an actual cell phone. "It could take 30 seconds into the emergency call before the equipment pinpoints its location, "said McCormick.

He added the most reliable is the old-fashioned land line. "You get a fixed address from the land line.”