KHQ'S KALAE CHOCK: Even cell phones that don't have a coverage plan can call 911. They're called uninitialized phones. Even if it is not activated, it can call 911if the phone has power. The Spokane County Call Center says to keep this in mind if you give your old phone to your young child to use as a toy. They say it's important to take out the battery so that your child doesn't accidentally call 911.
The call center says the uninitialized phones can be used for good even though they come with limitations. Domestic violence advocates give the phones to victims in abusive relationships. Some parents have also trusted older children to carry the phones in case they need to call 911 in an emergency.
However, uninitialized phones also come with limitations. 911 operators can't trace the call. The operator will only be able to trace the call to the nearest cell phone tower. In real emergencies, the center can get help from the cell provider in triangulating the call between three towers to get a better location. However, it requires time, which is precious in emergency situations. There is also no way for the operator to call back because the phone isn't linked to a phone number.
Last year, the call center received 19,895 hang-up calls. They say there's no way to determine if the hang-ups came from uninitialized phones, but they say hang-ups were the second most common type of call the center received. Medical calls were number one.