Inactive Cell Phones Can Still Call 911

May 25, 2010 at 5:00 am 7 comments

Over half of 911 calls originate from cell phones. This number will only increase as traditional phone service declines and cell phone adoption rates continue to rise.

In the US and Canada, wireless phone operators are required by law to connect all calls to 911 services, whether the customer account is active, past due or even canceled.

Even if you don’t need a wireless phone for your social life, it may be a good idea to keep an old phone in your glove box in case of an emergency. There is even an organization called where you can donate an old phone or request a free phone for this exact purpose.

If you have a disabled phone without a service contract and want to use it for 911 service, you may want to test it. DO NOT just dial 911 to test it, they will likely send help, even if you say it was just a test. The proper way to test 911 service is to call the non-emergency number for your local public safety answering point (PSAP) office and schedule a 911 test. That way, they will be expecting your call and know for sure that it is a test. In the US, there is a list of non-emergency contact numbers for PSAPs listed here.

When you call 911, you should be aware that your location will also be transmitted to the operator.

Some cell phones have built in GPS receivers, allowing them to receive radio signals from space and accurately determine a very precise location on earth. But, GPS is rarely available when indoors and obviously many calls originate indoors. Calls to 911 may not use GPS location data, because the phone does not support it or because a GPS signal cannot be found (typical when indoors).

When GPS is not available, the wireless provider can get a fairly accurate location of the phone by analyzing it’s signal and the location of the towers that are receiving it. Current regulations require that a phone carrier can pinpoint a cell phone within 300-600 meters, depending on the technology the phone is using. By 2012, phone carriers should be able to pinpoint you location within 50-300 meters.

Broken Secrets | By: Chad Upton

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Sources: 911 Wireless Service, FCC

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ware Bertholf  |  June 17, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Good news. I certainly am glad to know that. All I ever wanted a cell phone for was the ability to call 911. I will not spend any more money for other service.

  • 2. Kelly  |  June 21, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    I actually found this out when I was a kid. I had a really old cell phone that I was messing around with and decided to dial 911, not knowing anything would happen. I was shocked when the call went through. I felt silly afterwards, but it’s good to know in case of an emergency you can always contact the police.

  • […] Inactive Cell Phones Can Still Call 911 […]

  • 4. how to increase ur battery life « Akashkhadke's Blog  |  August 5, 2010 at 3:56 am

    […] Inactive Cell Phones Can Still Call 911 […]

  • 5. 911 area code  |  February 4, 2012 at 8:06 am

    It definitely does work. Sadly, we’ve found that there are tons of people who still do not know that their old, inactive cell phone can call 911.

    Lets keep spreading this important message!

  • 6. Donna H.  |  July 17, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Those two little girls missing in Iowa, one of them had a inactive cell phone for playing games! Had they known they could still diall 911 on it, they might not have come up missing!!!! Makes me sick, that this is not a well known fact, for everyone. The phone was found near the bikes and the purse, off the bike trail!!!

  • 7. Linda  |  November 7, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Do inactive cell phones with no phone service or wifi still emit radiofrequency energy?


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