Cellular (wireless) phones are a great convenience and many people use them every day, but some problems can occur when making wireless 9-1-1 calls. To understand the problem, let's compare it to what happens when you use a standard home or office phone to dial 9-1-1 from within Sarpy County.
Standard home or office calls always come to the Sarpy County 9-1-1 Center. The phone instantly sends a signal to a database that provides your name, address, and phone number on a screen for our operators. They confirm with you the telephone and address information and ask the nature of your emergency. While this operator is talking with you and getting the details necessary to assist you, another operator is dispatching your Sarpy County law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services. This system works well, and we're able to provide you the help you need very quickly and efficiently. People with special medical conditions or other unique circumstances should understand that all they need to do is dial 9-1-1 and help will be sent. This is true even though they can’t speak, or even if an intruder ripped the phone cord from the wall the moment after they dialed 9-1-1. Our dispatchers will take action to send help to the address shown on the screen.
But what happens when you dial 9-1-1 on your cellular phone? Depending on your calling location and your proximity to a cellular tower, your call may be routed to a 9-1-1 Center outside of Sarpy County. Each 9-1-1 Center only has access to radio and fire & rescue paging systems that support the agencies they dispatch. Therefore, when your wireless call is misrouted, the operator won't have the ability to directly dispatch emergency services to you. Instead, they must transfer the call to the 9-1-1 Center of the jurisdiction (city or county) that can dispatch the help.
In addition, with wireless calls, the 9-1-1 Center receiving your cellular call only sees limited information on its operator screens. We have the name and address of your cellular provider and your cell phone telephone number. The 9-1-1 operator needs to know your location to send help. You'll have to describe where you are so they can determine which 9-1-1 Center needs to get your call. When the dispatcher knows your location, usually they will be able to quickly transfer your call if it’s one of the jurisdictions surrounding Sarpy County (Cass, Douglas, Mills, Potawattamie , Lancaster, and Saunders).
Cellular phone calls comprise approximately 50 percent of all of our calls
It’s important to know then, that any time you travel in an unfamiliar area, you should be more alert to your surroundings—such as what highway you’re on, mile markers, closest city, named exits, and so on. That way, if you have an emergency and need to dial 9-1-1, you can quickly and accurately describe to the operator where you’re located so they can get you the kind of help that you need.
If you dial 9-1-1 from your cellular phone and don’t talk to us directly, many times we are able to hear some background noise. If we believe you may be in danger, we can request your name and home address from your cellular phone provider. At this point we will dispatch a law enforcement officer to your home. However, if you are not at your residence, and we cannot tell from your conversation where you are, it will be very difficult for us to locate you and send assistance. In these instances, it is imperative for you to try to give the dispatcher some sense of where you are.
The latest technology, called Wireless Phase 2 (WPH2) allows the Sarpy County 9-1-1 Center to use the latitude and longitude from your cellular phone to assist us in determining your location. All major cell phone providers which service the area have undergone cellular tower testing to ensure their sites are providing us with accurate information. When we iniitially receive a cellular call, it may either come in as Wireless Phase 1 or Wireless Phase 2. If the call is WPH1 the dispatcher will conduct a "rebid" which will send your call into the WPH2 mode. At this time, the dispatcher, using our mapping system, will be able to pinpoint your location within a certain meters range. This technology gives our center a "starting point" to attempt to locate someone if they are unable to provide us with a location. WPH2 does not work with "Trac Phones" or "pay as you go" phones as they do not have a registered service.
The other type of phone system is a VOIP system. This system uses your home computer to administer your phone line. If you live in Sarpy County and have this system, please call 402-593-4111 and tell the dispatchers you would like to test your 911 capabilities in case you have an emergency. Many times the phones are not initally set up properly. We encourage you to make this test call BEFORE you need us.
A Special Note to Parents: It is very important that your children know their name, address, and phone number. They must be able to relay that information to the dispatcher in a clear, understandable voice. If you are using a cellular phone as your home phone line, the dispatcher may have a delay in locating your residence in case of an emergency. Your children should know how to turn on the phone and, after dialing 9-1-1, to push the send button. In case your cell phone is not charged, show them how to plug it in. If your home phone is the cellular phone, please make sure there is a phone available if you leave your children with a babysitter. Also, please explain to them a dispatcher cannot see them, so when the dispatcher asks a question, they cannot nod or shake their head instead of verbalizing yes or no. Fore more information, call the dispatch center (402-593-4111) and we will be able to send out a brochure on speaking with your children about 9-1-1.
In conclusion, we recommend that if you use a cellular phone to report an emergency within Sarpy County, the first thing you should tell the dispatcher is that you’re in Sarpy County and are calling from a cell phone. Then, state the nature of the emergency and where you are located. Be ready to provide a good description of your location by giving business names or street intersections, and confirm your cellular number for call back in case of a disconnect. This will enable our operator to quickly determine the proper law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical services you need. This way you'll get the help you need without delay.