GPS tell cops your location to within 30 feet or 10 meters

  Cell phones with a GPS chip will tell the cops your location within 30 to 40 feet under ideal conditions

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Valley 9-1-1 callers urged to stay calm

Accurate information vital so crews can get to location quicker

Lily Leung
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 8, 2008 12:00 AM

SURPRISE - Three weeks ago, Surprise firefighters were en route to an incident in which a 14-year-old Valley Vista student was struck by a car while walking to school.

Given incorrect cross streets from a frantic cellphone user, fire staff arrived in the vicinity but not at the exact spot of the accident, said Surprise Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Pool.

"I have heartburn over people who don't take their time when they call 911 . . . and don't give the right address," he said. "Once (a fire engine) starts in one direction . . . it takes a couple of minutes for it to turn around."

Pool said precious minutes were wasted when the fire crew was forced to turn in the opposite direction last month. But they eventually arrived and treated the victim.

Fire and 911-communications officials point out the importance of having accurate information when calling in an emergency, especially when reporting it from a mobile phone.

Surprise's emergency dispatch center fields an average of 2,900 calls a month, and it is vital for callers to remain calm and answer the dispatchers' questions in the order in which they are asked, said Carol Campbell, Surprise's communications manager.

Campbell reminds people to orient themselves before calling 911. If cross streets are not clear, then naming landmarks is a good alternative, she said. "This is really important, especially if you're dealing with a high school that has many entrances and exits," she said.

Fortunately, with cellphones that have their global-positioning systems enabled, dispatchers can pinpoint the location of the caller, in "optimum conditions," within 30 to 40 feet (10 to 13 meters), she said.

The system works through a signal that is sent from the cellphone to a tower, and then relayed to the 911 call center, Campbell explained.

But using this feature successfully depends on whether the cellphone has GPS capability, and whether it has been enabled.

Campbell offers these tips:

If you're on the road and need to dial 911, make sure you pull over and dial safely.

Dispatchers will walk callers through a certain order of questions. Knowing your location is most important. Then dispatchers will ask what type of help is needed.

Let the operator ask the questions.