Child's call points up limitations of 911 system
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA _ A boy's call to 911 helped save his father's life but also pointed up limitations of emergency systems.
Wanda Bowers, a spokeswoman for the state's Bureau of Emergency Communications, said the Laconia child was using an old cell phone that no longer had an account associated with it. Such phones can be used to call 911, but emergency dispatchers are unable to get a home address that would be associated with an account.
The best dispatchers can do in that case is determine a caller's general location based on the 911 towers being used.
That was the situation with the little boy who called 911 on Jan. 19. He managed to indicate his father had diabetes and could not be awakened, but he couldn't articulate his apartment's address.
A local officer happened to be familiar with the man involved and knew where to send the ambulance, otherwise the incident might have had a bad ending.
Bowers said this case points up the fact that unlike landlines, the address does not immediately pop up on dispatchers' screens when a cell phone is used to call 911.
People should be ready to provide their location whenever they use a cell to call in an emergency.
Those with permanent medical conditions can get on a supplemental database that will immediately provide dispatchers with medical information and a home address. People with land lines and registered cell phones can be added to this database _ called Supplemental ALI, or Automatic Location Identification _ by filling out a form available online at www.nh.gov/nh911 or by calling the 911 business office at 603-271-6911 and asking for the form.
Bowers said this database becomes increasingly important as an increasing percentage of people only use cell phones and do not have land lines.
"About 85 percent of the calls we get are placed from cell phones," Bowers said. "It's a night and day difference from when I started 20 years ago."
The ALI database once helped save a woman whose trained dog knocked the phone off the hook when the alarm sounded on her breathing machine. The dog pawed a speed dial where all the buttons were set up to dial 911.
As soon as the call went through, dispatchers quickly realized this number was associated with a woman with respiratory problems and promptly sent medical help.
Still, the best advice is to know where you are at all times and be able to communicate this important information.
"Sometimes hikers go out with cell phones and want to use them in an emergency, but they don't know their exact location, or the phone may have lost its electrical charge," Bowers said.
For people who are unable or afraid to speak into a phone during an emergency, such as a home break-in, 911 can also accept text messages. Such a text should include the location of the caller and the nature of the emergency.
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