EMSA Dispatcher Tracks Distressed Patient 100 Miles from Coverage Area

TULSA, Okla. (Aug. 8, 2012) -- As a 911 dispatcher, directing units to distressed callers is a critical component of the job, but not always an easy task.

There are several situations in which a caller may be unable to provide a dispatcher with their exact location: they lose connection, refuse to say, are being held against their will, or simply do not know. In any of these cases, a dispatcher employs multiple tactics to trace or locate from where the call was placed and get first responders to the scene immediately.

However, what happens when the person in distress isn’t the caller and can’t be located?

This scenario happened recently to Lead System Status Controller Lt. Sean Elsten, Emergency Medical Services Authority, at the 911 Communications Center in Tulsa, Okla., when he received a call from a Tulsa resident who was trying to locate her mother after receiving a call of distress from her.

“Originally I got the call from the patient’s daughter,” said Elsten.  “She stated that her mother had a long history of mental illness and had gotten in her car and drove away from town ending up in a hotel rom, but wouldn’t reveal where.”

Elsten got the patient’s cell phone number from her daughter and immediately called the patient who would not reveal her location to Elsten either. Thus, he contacted AT&T to “ping” the patient’s cell phone for current location.  While it is common practice for 911 dispatchers to use cell phone towers as a means to tracking callers, it’s not often that the service is used to track a non-caller outside of the local 911 service area.

“This is not a relatively new technology,” said Elsten.  “However, the Phase II technology has drastically improved the accuracy.”

With AT&T’s help, Elsten got the coordinates of the caller, which were accurate to within 80 feet enabling Elsten to identify the patient’s location at a casino hotel in Miami, Okla., nearly 100 miles outside the Tulsa service area.  Since the hotel receptionist was not able to reveal guest information, Elsten contacted the Miami Police Department who responded to the call and recovered the patient.

Elsten’s understanding of the available tools for tracking calls and ability to use those tools may have saved this patient’s life.

As technology advances, call centers are finding more resources at their disposal to complete the task of getting first responders to the scene of an emergency in critical life saving time. The knowledge of and ability to utilize these tools is critical to completing a dispatcher’s job successfully. However, ingenuity, resourcefulness and follow through are untaught characteristics of a 911 dispatcher who is committed to saving lives no matter how far away they might be.