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  March 17, 2003

Location Is Key When Dialing 911 From Cell Phone

What's the difference between the white building and The White Building? Location, location, location.

To a police dispatcher responding to a 911 emergency call from a cell phone, trying to figure out where The White Building is - in the agricultural complex on the Storrs campus - can be a nightmare. Unfortunately, the dispatcher has no idea which town the cell phone call is coming from, or to which of the countless white buildings in Tolland County the caller may be referring. And while the dispatcher is quizzing the caller, time is passing.

That's because a 911 call made from your cell phone - even if you are on campus - goes to an off-campus police dispatcher. And the dispatcher has no way of knowing that you are in a University building, or that you don't realize you are talking to a regional dispatcher rather than to UConn police.

"In an emergency situation, it is very important for cell phone users to call us directly or to make sure that they tell the 911 dispatcher that they are calling from UConn," says Robert Hudd, director of public safety and chief of police. "If the dispatcher does not realize the caller is at UConn, response times may be extended."

All 911 calls made from a cell phone bounce from a cell tower to the nearest large police dispatch center. In the case of calls from the Storrs area, that is generally the Tolland County dispatcher.

When you call 911 from your home phone, the dispatcher can tell what street address you are calling from. But unlike landlines, the dispatcher cannot trace cell phone calls; the caller must pinpoint his or her location.

Regardless of whether an emergency call goes to an area dispatcher or to UConn's public safety office, the key is to stay calm, stay on the line, and answer questions as completely as possible, says Hudd.

"The calmer you can be when you are on the phone with the dispatcher during an emergency call, the quicker we can figure out how to handle the situation," he says. "But if you are on the UConn campus and are using a cell phone, the quickest response will come from dialing UConn dispatchers directly."

From a landline on the UConn campus, the best number to call is 911 (no 6 or 7 is required). From a cell phone, the best number to call is 486-4800.

Hudd suggests that cell phone users program their cell phones with the 486-4800 number - with an area code if needed - right away, so they will be ready if an emergency arises.

Members of the University community based at the Health Center, the School of Law, or a regional campus, should check the local arrangements for emergency calls.