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Ask the Chief: Cellphone users' 911 calls go to nearest tower

Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman

"Ask The Chief" allows readers access to useful information about law enforcement issues in Red Wing. This communication tool has been developed to enhance community policing efforts by providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to ask questions about local laws, programs and the department in general.

Submit your question to askthe.policechief@ci.red-wing.mn.us.

Q: If we dial or text 911 from our cellphones, that still have our (out of state) phone number ... will we get connected to the local 911 center?

A: Thank you for this question, you are not the only person concerned about cellphone calls to 911. The number on your phone or where it was purchased has no effect on 911 calls; the 911 call goes through the nearest cellular phone tower, so the area that the call is placed in is the jurisdiction that will receive the call for help.

Also, recent technology allows for the closest three (or as many towers in the area) cell towers to triangulate the location of the caller to better provide assistance, in case the caller goes unconscious or something else happens prior to getting a message out. We still highly encourage providing your location when calling on the cellphone, as sometimes along the border of states (or fishing near Canada), the nearest tower may be in the neighboring state/country and will go to their dispatch office.

Example, some calls along the river will be picked up by a Wisconsin tower first, therefore being sent to Pierce County Dispatch, the dispatchers realize this and have direct communications to each other to help get the proper response heading in the right direction as soon as possible.

Minnesota also offers "Text to 911" for individuals that are unable to talk or must remain silent for safety reasons. The preference is still to call 911 if possible to avoid delays in texting messages back and forth to ensure the proper response.

Links:

Federal Communication Commission (FCC), understanding wireless phone coverage. On-line at https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/understanding-wireless-telephone-co...

Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Text to 911 media release December 5, 2017. On-line at https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ooc/news-releases/Pages/minnesota-text-to-9...

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