Making a 911 call on a cell phone allows you to instantly report an emergency, but it could delay response time.

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According to Craig Reiner, the Director of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services, when you make a 911 call from a land line it is a fixed location, and there's a record in the database on where the location is.

However, that's not the same with a cell phone.

Reiner said "The technology that's available today and actually throughout the country requires that particular 911 call be routed, based on the cell tower that picked that call up, to the most logical 911 center that would answer a call for an emergency from that area."

What does that mean?  Reiner explained, "There are times when an individual may place a 911 call from a cell phone and that call could be picked up from a neighboring community, or actually a regular occurrence is that it can be picked up in a different state like Pennsylvania or New York.  The problem is that radio waves that come from a cell phone don't follow political boundaries."

As a result of the routing, Reiner said 911 calls should be answered in a manner that asks the caller where their emergency is.  "The most important piece of information is to determine where the emergency is.  If the call goes to the correct 911 center, the operator will continue to interrogate the caller and make the appropriate dispatch, but if it's answered by a neighboring 911 center, they will recognize that and be able to transfer it to the appropriate 911 center."

Is making a 911 call from a cell phone a disadvantage?

According to Reiner, "It may be a disadvantage, especially if the caller doesn't know their exact location." If that turns out to be the case, he says a location can be determined using nearby cell towers, and the phone's GPS.

A Next Generation 911 system is being developed, that focuses on voice over the internet telephone calls.  The system will lend some assistance to the ability to more quickly determine location information from cell phones.  According to Reiner, the Next Generation 911 network will be able to bring a whole new suite of opportunities to 911 callers.  In fact,  there's an expectation that wireless devices will be able to begin texting to 911.

For now Reiner suggested using a land line to call 911 if it's available.  "Callers should always make the choice of a land line phone rather than a cell phone if that opportunity is available to them."