What if you called 911 and dispatchers couldn’t figure out where you lived? It happened to a local mom because her house was so new it wasn’t yet on a map.
Dispatchers were eventually able to find Katie Bell’s house and get emergency crews there in just over 10 minutes but it was an excruciating wait for the new mom as she tried to relay where she was.
Bell has her hands full. Her twins, Lucy and Annie, are 9 months old.
“It happened right here while I was changing her diaper,” says Bell as she points to a spot in her new living room.
Last week, the new mom, and brand new Osceola resident, experienced what no mother is prepared for: “Annie had stopped breathing and was having to me what looked like a seizure,” says Bell.
Bell called 911 but because her new address and neighborhood wasn’t on the map yet — it wasn’t easy to find her house.
“The first thing they asked was, what’s the location of your emergency, and she said we don’t have that address,” says Bell.
Bell says it took three minutes to figure out where her house was located so responders could be dispatched.
“Oh, it felt like it was an hour,” says Bell, “time was standing still. It’s really scary to see anyone like that, especially when it’s your child. Her eyes were just glazed over looking at me. It’s just upsetting to talk about,” says Bell.
Annie is okay now but Bell is warning others and dispatchers say that’s a good thing.
“Location is the most important piece of information that a dispatcher gets. That is why we ask what is the address of the emergency, then repeat that for verification and then we ask what city or town,” says Diana Scott. Scott is the St. Joseph County 911 Dispatch Police Operations Chief.
She says, there are things you can do to get emergency responders to your location faster.
First, always be aware of your surroundings like nearby addresses, businesses and landmarks.
Second, make sure to enable “location services” on your cell phone.
“It is under the privacy tab in your settings,” says Scott.
Dispatchers have a technology called Rapid SOS that they can use to ping your phone if needed. But your phone must have “location services” on. Rapid SOS can pinpoint an exact latitude and longitude for a location and will map to the closest geographic address.
Scott says this technology would be crucial if a hunter is injured on a remote location, if a person is driving down the interstate but doesn’t know exactly where they are, or if a child calls 911 but can’t remember their address.
“That can also be very helpful because let’s say you have a large home or a farm and maybe you’re back in your woods or something. We could actually find exactly where you are,” says Scott.
And if you have just moved into a new home?
It is not out of line to call the nonemergency number and say, hey, I’ve just moved into a new subdivision and I’d like to know if you can validate my address. And we can do that in our system,” says Scott. “Then, there are some things on our end, whenever we find an address that falls out and we can’t get it to go into our system, we pass that on to the county GIS department, who manages our system to get that added as quickly as can be because even during the construction phase there can be an emergency there so we want to get help to people as quickly as we can.”
Bell is thankful for the response from dispatchers who were eventually able to find her location based on nearby businesses and help from a neighbor.
She is also grateful to emergency responders who helped.
Annie and Lucy are happy to be home and healthy.