911 calls made from cellphones can cause problems, director says

Indianapolis

Fox59 has uncovered that 911 calls made by cellular phones are at risk of being connected to the wrong 911 call center, wasting valuable seconds during an emergency.

Beth Myers of Westfield learned that the hard way in July, when her 73-year-old mother Cecilia Raines looked like she was having a stroke.

"It was scary," said Myers, who picked up her cell phone and dialed 911.

“She’s breathing and her eyes are open really wide, but she’s not talking," she told the dispatcher on the other line.

She thought help was on the way, but when the dispatcher asked Myers for the address, she realized a horrific mix-up had occurred.

“Oh. Ma’am, you’re calling from Westfield, Indiana. This is Anderson Police Department!” the dispatcher exclaimed.

Myers hung up and tried again, but her calls were going to the Anderson 911 call center instead of the Hamilton County 911 center.

"I felt helpless," she said.

The dispatcher can be heard in the 911 call struggling to help. By the time Myers' husband called Westfield Police with his cell phone, Raines' condition had worsened.

"She didn't make it that night," Myers recalled. "By the time they got her to the hospital, she was pronounced dead."

After Fox59 aired Myers' story, our newsroom was contacted by other people who claimed similar stories. We discovered, the mix-up apparently happens frequently nationwide.

"It's a tragic story, but it's one that I think if you look at across the nation, you see it happening more and more often," said Joe Mangas, Director of the 911 Communications Center in Hamilton County.

He said cell phones towers will send calls to the wrong centers all the time. His own dispatchers often get calls from outside the county, even from other states in the Midwest.

"There's not a week that goes by that we don't receive one," he said.

He said his center has a one button process in place that will transfer outside calls to the right place, in an effort to save crucial minutes during an emergency situation.

It's not clear if Anderson's 911 center has a similar program. A call to the center's director was not returned Tuesday.

A spokesman for Myers' cell phone provider, Sprint, said Monday that the wireless company is looking into the matter. Myers said a representative contacted her on Tuesday to let her know her phone service was going to be fixed.

Fox59 has still not received a comment from Sprint.

Myers said, she doesn't know if her mother would've survived if her original call for help would've gone to the right place. However, she wants the problem fixed so other families never go through what she did.

"There's just so many situations where we need 911 and we need it to work," she said.

Mangas suggests people keep their landlines, because of the problems. If you don't have one, you should keep your local emergency contacts in your cell phone.

BLOGS

Jump to a blog