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911 dispatcher details difficulty tracking cellphone location

A local 911 dispatcher says cell phones make it difficult to track your location in an emergency.

When you use your cellphone companies like Uber, Lyft and Facebook have the ability to pinpoint your location. It turns out that luxury does not extend to 911 dispatchers -- the link between you and help in an emergency.

Communication officer Monica Tripp with Gallatin County 911 told NBC Montana if you don’t know where you are you could be in trouble. That’s why it’s important to take note of mile markers, landmarks and cross streets when you’re out and about.

“It’s a huge stress for us to not be able to help you,” Tripp said.

Tripp said the flaw is mainly a result of phone networks not syncing up with call centers’ technology. According to Tripp, some providers give more accurate locations than others.

“If you call 911 from an AT&T phone, and you don’t know where you are, we may not be able to find you,” Tripp said.

NBC Montana called 911 from inside the Gallatin County 911 dispatch center and found it hit a cell tower about 7 miles away. Tripp said refreshing the call log helps give dispatchers a more accurate location -- but it doesn’t always work.

The more accurate location gives the dispatcher a general area of the cellphone. In some cases the radius could stretch as far as about 3 miles away.

Tripp said this isn’t just a problem in Montana -- it’s a nationwide issue.

“It’s just kind of something that we live with,” Tripp said. “We don’t expect an immediate solution to the problem, so we work with what we have as best we can.”

The Federal Communications Commission told NBC News all wireless carriers must give more accurate location data by 2021.

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