A “wrong number” cellphone call that stumped west-central Iowa dispatchers this week was the kind of case that’s become increasingly rare, thanks to improvement of the 9-1-1 system. The Calhoun County communications center in Rockwell City fielded a 9-1-1 call late Monday night that originated in California, but State 9-1-1 Program Manager John Benson says that kind of mixup is becoming extremely rare. The phone switch that determines where a call goes can get misrouted by the misplacing of a single digit but those stories are few and far between these days and Benson says this is the first he’s heard in two or three years. Benson explains the system is being upgraded to help rescue workers determine the location of a cellphone caller who’s reporting an emergency. When you dial 9-1-1 on a cellphone, the dispatcher’s computer screen at the nearest “answering point” lights up with the call-back number and the address of the cellphone tower you’re closest to, giving a “big pie-shaped area that you might be within.” At one time there was no way to tell where a cellphone user was calling from, but the current system’s an improvement on that and Benson says Iowa’s in transition to a system that’s better yet. They’ll also get coordinates including the latitude and longitude of the location the call’s coming from, and within the next six months Benson says 58 of the state’s 99 counties should have that capability. Benson says that’ll include about 64 of the state’s 125 “answering points” that handle 9-1-1 calls. Within the next year to 18 months the rest of the counties should get that technology, so that location service will be in place across the state. Whether you call from a cellphone or old-fashioned land-line, Benson says dispatchers do all they can to ensure they know where the call came from. Most dispatchers will ask you to tell where you are, another way of double-checking the location is accurate, so if you phone in an emergency they recommend making sure you’re aware of where you’re calling from.
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