Clearly visible household addresses, cellphone pinging help emergency personnel find you

By Con Olson, MICT, Regional Executive Director, Osage County EMS

If you called 911, could emergency personnel find you?

071114-Osagecounty-EMSAre you a farmer out working in the field?  What do you do if you needed the fire department?  Do you take the boat for some fun at the lake on weekends? How would you get help if you had an injury in the middle of the lake? Does your teenager stay at home by themselves during summer break?  What would happen if a burglar was breaking into your home while they are there?

If you have ever needed emergency help, you know that seconds seems like minutes and minutes seem like hours.  Whether you need law enforcement, have a fire, or experience a medical emergency, being able to locate you in a timely manner is essential.   In some cases it may be a matter of life and death.


For emergency responders there is nothing more frustrating than having difficulty locating an address.  Often address numbers aren’t displayed at all.  If they are, they tend to be too small to be read or on the opposite side of a mailbox and they need to drive past a home to stop and read the “backside” of the mailbox.

Osage County does have an ordinance that requires all mailboxes to have addresses on them.  Ideally all numbers should be reflective and at least 4” or larger on mailboxes.  Numbers should be 6” or larger for homes or businesses in the city.  Remember the farther from the street you place the numbers, the larger they should be.

Is the house too far off the street or do you use a mailbox?  Again using reflective numbers that are big enough to be seen at night are essential.  Also place the numbers on both sides of the mailbox.  You never know which direction a volunteer or emergency help will be coming from.


Many advances with technology have helped dispatchers locate callers that are using a cellphone.  If you are uncertain of your location when you’ve dialed 911, the communications center can pinpoint a location within about 75 feet of you.  Pre-paid phone users beware though.  Trac phones and some other pre-paid phones cannot be “pinged” to be located by the current technology.

When dialing 911 from your cellphone be sure the dispatcher identifies where you are.  Often times a cell signal will go to what it recognizes as the “strongest” tower signal and route your call to a communications center that may be in another county.

I used my cellphone to call 911 at a car crash once.  Instead of sending my call to the communications center 10 miles down the highway, my call went to a different county, to a dispatcher nearly 50 miles away.


Recently, technology has allowed texting your 911 request to become possible.  However, this capability only exists in a select number of communications centers.  Primarily these are located in urban and metropolitan areas. Very few communications centers across the country currently have that capability.  So don’t rely on a text to be your 911 call.  Once software is improved, updated and becomes more cost effective, texting may become an option in smaller communications centers.

For more information, contact Osage County EMS at 785-528-1139, or visit

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