Pitt County 911 operators say cell phone calls are unreliable

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The severe weather we’re expecting across the East Wednesday could put you in an emergency situation.

There’s a common misconception that if you call 911 from your cell phone, first responders will always be able to find you. Yet Pitt County 911 operators say that’s not the case.

We all think cell phone technology is pretty reliable. Apps like your map can pinpoint your exact location, but 911 technology across the country hasn’t caught up. So when you call from a cell phone, it could only see that you’re somewhere in a general area.

Pitt County Emergency Management says when you call from a cell phone, they first get the location for the nearest cell phone tower, but it takes more time to find exactly where you are. The system reboots every 25 seconds to try to find a more accurate location. In an emergency, time is of the essence.

“It’s important that we know exactly where you’re at. I need to send rescue to you, not 3 blocks from you or to the next apartment building down the street. I need to send it directly to you,” said Sam Tyson with Pitt County Communications.

Tyson says cell phone companies are required to provide a latitude and longitude for all 911 calls, but that isn’t always accurate and is often hindered by cell reception and bad weather.

Landline calls immediately give operators your location. Yet in Pitt County, only a quarter of the calls they receive come from landlines. If you’re depending on a cell phone, make sure you’re aware of your surroundings and know your address in case you have to call 911.

Tyson says Emergency Management can’t do anything to help fix the problem until wireless companies improve services to 911 centers.

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