Did you know a deactivated cell phone can call

9-1-1? Federal law mandates that wireless service providers must connect a wireless caller to 9-1-1 regardless of the phone’s activation status. In other words, an old, unused cell phone without a subscription to AT&T, for example, can be used in an emergency to call 9-1-1. While old phones may be useful as an emergency phone left in your vehicle or given to children, this same FCC rule presents challenges for 9-1-1 centers.

A deactivated cell phone means a phone without a subscription; as such, no individual subscriber phone number is assigned to that phone. If the phone works, has a battery charge, and can acquire a cell network signal (i.e., a newer digital phone vs. an older analog phone), the cell phone can be used to call 9-1-1 in an emergency. Interestingly, when such a phone is used to call 9-1-1, the 9-1-1 call-taker will receive a strange phone number associated with the call, such as 911-555-1234, or any string of numbers following a 911 area code. As long as the caller stays on the line until released by the call-taker, the caller’s emergency can be processed. But if the caller hangs up, intentional or otherwise, the call-taker has no way to call them back!

On July 25, 2012, Telecommunicator Matt Fuller received one of these calls from a young child. Barely able to hear the child’s voice amongst background noise, Matt repeatedly asked the caller for her name and location, but to no avail. Although call-takers often times receive prank or inadvertent 9-1-1 calls, Matt sensed this was in fact an emergency and continued to engage the caller, while simultaneously using the tools available at his console to fine-tune the cell phone’s location via what is called Phase 2 technology. Upon receiving a valid latitude and longitude of the cell phone, Matt transferred the call to Millcreek Police.

Even though his duties were done, Matt did not abandon the caller. Instead he researched CAD (computer aided dispatch) records for prior hang-up calls and found two at the same address, very near the lat/long of this call, for a special needs child. This amplifying and helpful information was in turn passed to Millcreek Police. In addition to a “Thank You” Matt received from the Millcreek Police Department, Public Safety would like to say …WELL DONE, MATT!


Submitted by Carol Lang, Public Safety Quality Assurance Coordinator

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