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If you call 911 but don't know where you are, can dispatchers find you?

911 dispatchers answer the phone hundreds of times the same way: "911. What is the address of your emergency?" But what if you didn't know? (File)

EUGENE, Ore. - Matt Nelson will say the same 7 words over and over again in the course of a shift at Central Lane 911.

"911," he says. "What is the address of your emergency?"

The particulars depends on the scenario.

"Do you know the person's name that spit on you?" he asks one caller

"Is the person that was sleeping outside," he asks another, "is he still there or did he move on?"

But there's one type of call every dispatcher dreads, like this one taken by a 911 operator in Georgia.

"911, what is the address of your emergency?"

"I'm in a car," the caller says, "in a lake."

That was 31-year-old Shanell Anderson, calling desperate for help as her SUV sank into a lake.

She didn't know where she was.

Neither did 911.

It's a scenario dispatchers dread, says Nelson.

"If they're using a cell phone, depending on the carrier, what technology that cellphone has, sometimes it will give us a good accurate location," he says. "Other times it just gives us the tower that it's connected which sometimes can be miles away from where the caller is calling from."

KVAL News put different carriers to the test with the help of Central Lane 911, working to determine if dispatchers would be able to locate you in the event you called for help but didn't know where you were located.


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