Nathan Grigg

My poor 911 track record

When I was 20 and living in Chile, I was in a car accident. I was driving through an intersection in the Antofagasta centro and didn’t notice that the traffic signal was out. Neither did another driver, who happened to be drunk and driving 70 mph. The truck I was driving rolled twice and landed on its side. When I was sure my passengers were okay (we were), I climbed out the window. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 133, the Chilean 911 equivalent.

I got a busy signal. It didn’t matter. We were downtown and I could already hear sirens.

A few years ago, my neighbor broke his hip in his driveway. I called 911 on my cell phone and was connected to the wrong city’s dispatch center. This was understandable, since I lived on the border of the two cities. They transferred my call, which was not cumbersome since dispatchers pick up on the first ring.

A few weeks ago, I was driving behind an erratic driver who I thought was drunk. He was driving slowly and in the middle or wrong side of the road. I honked, thinking maybe he was just inattentive, and he pulled over, let me pass, and started following me. At this point I was home, but a little freaked out, so I drove around the block and circled back, only to find him stopped and blocking the one-lane street that my house is on. California advertises 911 as the number to call to report drunk driving, so I gave up on solving things myself and called 911.

I got a Verizon message that the number I was dialing had been discontinued or moved.

I tried again. Same thing.

While I sat in my car in disbelief, the driver of the car parked in front of my house and exited the vehicle. It was an elderly lady and despite her poor driving was probably not drunk and definitely not out to get me.

I felt a little silly while I parked my car, but what if that had been a more urgent situation? What if there had been a threat or an accident or a heart attack and minutes mattered?

How do I fix this?

I spent an hour on the phone with Verizon. I felt only somewhat better to hear that none of the technicians I worked with had heard of this before. They had me reset my network settings, reboot my phone, and call 911 again.

Same thing.

I got escalated to the next level. They had me read off a bunch of settings, which checked out. They had me turn off my phone, they did some kind of hard reset of my network state on their end, and then had me turn my phone back on and try again.

This time it worked. (I was apologetic and the dispatchers were understanding.)

And that was it. Verizon is sorry, but nobody has any idea what went wrong.

I programmed my city’s 10-digit emergency number into my phone. Hopefully that works as a backup.

(Wifi calling was enabled, but I had no wifi connection at the time. I’ve since disabled it. Voice over LTE was also enabled. I’ve disabled it.)