I am a huge fan of the Clark Howard Show on our local radio station 590 KLBJ. I love listening to scams, helpful tips on saving money, and overall he’s probably the nicest person I hear on the radio station. But there is one thing I highly disagree with him on, and that is his insistence that you do not need a landline telephone.

Most people would agree that landlines have pretty much become obsolete. With the technology of cell phones, who needs a landline?

Here’s the thing. Let’s say you’re getting up in age – I’m talking 70’s, 80’s. Your family just talked you into getting one of the latest cell phones, they showed you all the cool stuff and you’re really excited about getting pictures of little Suzy and Joey on your phone. You’ve cut your landline off to save you money each month. One day you are in your kitchen making some sandwiches and your chest starts to feel a little funny. You notice your left arm going numb. You freak out. You’re having a heart attack – you’ve read the articles, seen the signs, and you know what’s happening. Luckily your cell phone was on the counter, so you reach over and dial 911. You start to feel faint. “911 what’s the address of the emergency?” you hear. You say “I’m having a heart attack…” because that’s the most important thing, you think. You’re getting dizzier than you’ve ever felt in your life and you’re getting weak. “Ok what’s the address?” “It’s…”

This is the crucial moment.

This is the moment for which you have a landline telephone. It may never happen. I pray it doesn’t.

All hope is not lost if you don’t have a landline. If you’re calling on a cell phone and you tell the dispatcher you’re having a heart attack, or you need help, and the line goes dead or the battery dies, you might still be able to get the help. There are two ways we can find you.

The first way is through the GPS chip in your phone. All new phones have what is called Wireless Phase II, which lets us pinpoint your location based on a triangulation of 3 cell phone towers. It’s accurate within a few hundred yards and with it I can usually tell what house is calling – or at least narrow it down to 4 or 5 houses on a particular street or cul de sac. GPS is really freaking cool even though it’s not exact – and sometimes it can take 10-15 seconds to register and show up on my end of the technology.

The other way is by getting your subscriber information. To get your address that way we have to call your cell phone company and talk to them. I won’t go into details because I’m not sure I should, but trust me – it’s a bit of a pain. Not to mention it only works if you’re actually at home when you call.

There are plenty of people who that scenario doesn’t apply to. So pick a different scenario from the following:

  • Someone breaks into your house; you hear it while you’re in your bedroom so you run into the closet with a cell phone. The only problem is your cell phone is loud, and you can’t talk loud enough for them to hear you without the home-invader hearing also.
  • Your kids are home alone. The 12 year old is babysitting the 5 year old. The 12 year old falls, gets knocked out. The 5 year old knows to use the emergency cell phone in the corner, but he has no idea what his address is. This scenario can go several different ways – if he knows his address, but can’t articulate what’s going on, the dispatcher might just think he’s playing on the phone and send a police officer out to investigate. That is that much longer the 12 year old isn’t getting the right kind of help.
  • The neighbor is feeding your fish while you’re on vacation. She hurts herself, doesn’t have her cell phone on her, and can’t crawl far enough to get outside… she can’t do anything but lay there and call for help hoping her husband next door hears her. He doesn’t come check on her for an hour.

I don’t want to traumatize my readers, but I do want to convey my strong feelings about this. I strongly dislike AT&T most of the time, but their basic phone service is about 10-15 bucks a month. I don’t even turn the ringer on, I never answer it, and people that need to get ahold of me know to call my cell phone. But if I’m choking on something in my kitchen and need to get help, I can call 911 on my landline. At the very least they’ll know where to send someone.

Just as a side note – in case anyone is wondering – digital phone services started off with a pretty bad rep for good reasons as far as 911 was concerned, but they’ve improved a lot. If you choose to use digital phone just ensure that your company is sending 911 calls directly to your local PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) – and then when you get it hooked up, call your local non-emergency police number and ask them if you can do a test-911 call to make sure it’s correctly routed to them. Know that if you take your phone somewhere else (which some digital phones can do) it’s still going to display your home address. And if you move, keeping the same telephone number, give it a few days and then follow the same steps to do another test 911 call. If the information is not correct they can do a 911 trouble ticket correction form and get the information updated.

I’m sure that working for 911 and caring so much about human life is part of why this is so important to me. But it’s mainly important to me because it is true, and it is something that most people don’t consider. But please do. Please take the time to talk it over with your spouse or your kids or even just do some thinking to yourself. I know we’re all cutting back on our budgets, but seriously consider if this is something worth keeping around – just in case.