When you call 911, it doesn't always go to the dispatch center you're calling from


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. - The Bristol, Virginia Police Department is using a new dispatch system that lets them track calls more accurately than ever.

When you were a child, you were taught to call 911 in emergency situations. When you dial those three numbers, you expect someone to answer. However, when meteorologist Ricky Matthews saw a burning car in a parking lot earlier this week, no one answered his 911 call.

"It kept ringing and ringing and ringing," Matthews says.

Missie Cullop has more than a decade of experience in working dispatch, and says what happened to Matthews is rare, but does happen time to time.

"It could've just been bouncing from tower to tower and it never stayed at one tower long enough for the jurisdiction to pick up," Cullop, the Bristol, Virginia dispatcher, says.

Matthews was dialing from a Virginia area code, but he made the call from Bristol, Tennessee. He was worried that was stopping him from getting in touch with dispatch, but we learned your phone number doesn't make a difference.

"It's based on the cell phone tower you hit on," Cullop says.

One corner of Bristol, Virginia's dispatch room connects to a Bristol, Tennessee tower, while another corner hits one in Bristol, Virginia.

"If that tower happens to be busy then it will go to the closest tower that's available," Cullop says.

The new technology Bristol, Virginia is using allows them to transfer any calls to the correct dispatch unit with the click of a button. Dispatchers say if you ever find yourself in Matthews situation, hang up and call again.

"If you've bounced off that many towers and it's taking that long, there's an issue so hang up and dial again," Cullop says.

She would also say if you have the option of calling 911 from a cell phone or a landline, always choose the landline.

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