HAWTHORNE, N.Y. – A 911 call from a cell phone is more likely to disconnect than a call from a landline for obvious reasons. Yet even if the call doesn’t go through, or if it’s a hang-up, the New York State Police in Hawthorne are able to pinpoint that call with surprising accuracy thanks to some high technology.
“It’s not as accurate as it would be if you called from a landline, because then we would have an exact address to go to,” said state police Lt. Hector Hernandez. “But we’re still able to pinpoint a pretty accurate location.”
Hernandez said that when a 911 call comes in to the dispatcher from a cell phone, a software program in the police computer system is able to track a position of where that call is coming from by using the cell towers and satellites. The New York State Police headquarters in Hawthorne acts as the dispatcher for all 911 calls made with cell phones throughout Westchester County. Once the dispatcher pinpoints a location, either through the software or speaking with the caller, an alert goes to the appropriate police department.
Hernandez said that in the past, the state police have been able to locate callers who were unable to give an exact location.
“We’ve been able to save people who were stuck in the middle of the Long Island Sound or in the middle of the woods,” Hernandez said. “So it’s pretty good.”
The dispatch in Hawthorne receives about 30,000 wireless phone calls a month, and about 1,200 of those are hang-ups, misdials or disconnects, Hernandez said. Since the procedure is to try to call the person back if the call is disconnected, the dispatcher can be busy even if there’s no emergency.
“It’s important to find out if the person who called has an actual emergency,” Hernandez said. “Most of the time, though, they’ll just apologize and say they dialed by mistake.”
If not though, the police will know where you are.