Mapping Accuracy on Cell Calls to 911 Not Guaranteed

Posted at: 06/24/2014 11:07 PM
By: Steph Crock

(ABC 6 News ) -- When you need help immediately, help is just a 911 call away, or so you'd think. However, that wasn't the case for a Minneapolis woman. She tried to call for help and New York dispatch answered, so we went to local officials to see how something like this can happen.

"I have no idea how that even happens," said Faye Lewis from Minneapolis. She was caught in a scary situation. A stranger was pounding at her door in the middle of the night, so as most would do, she called 911. "She asked me again what borough do I live in, and I'm like 'Loring Park?'" said Lewis.

The dispatcher didn’t know where that was, as they were some 1,200 miles away. "I was like, 'I live in Minneapolis, and she's like, 'oh, you dialed 911 in New York,'" said Lewis.

"It's rare enough that I have not heard of that happening," said Gary Mulleneaux. He runs the dispatch center here in Rochester and Olmsted County and says, in some cases, a call may be routed to a nearby county, but even that doesn’t happen too often. "If that tower is busy, it may skip to another tower, it could hit another county, might make it to another state, I don’t know that much about that, but making it from Minnesota to New York just seems like a bit of a stretch," said Mulleneaux.

It's protocol to ask where the caller is calling from, but in the chances that they can't speak, dispatchers can map landlines spot on, even cellphone tracking technology is constantly improving. "We have a map that will show the latitude and longitude of where you are within about 300 feet so if you're out in the county we can find you, but if you're downtown near all the buildings we don’t know what floor of the hotel you might be on," said Mulleneaux.

He says the case in Minneapolis is so bizarre, a mistake must have been made along the way. Either way, he doesn’t want this to cause people to lose faith in the otherwise very accurate system. "It's super frustrating and disappointing," said Lewis.

Again, since not all cellphone tracking is spot on, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is reminding callers to take note of where they're at whether it be an address, highway, or landmark.  That way, if something happens to the call, they can better locate you.