Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Do You Know Where You Are Right Now?

My son and his girlfriend Melanie witnessed a horrific accident the other day, one that sent a pickup truck "into the sky" and broke it in half when it landed. Brian told Mel (an Army veteran) to call 911, and rattled off their highway location before running to help the elderly driver that had lost consciousness at 70 mph. Mel gave the authorities their coordinates, and police and ambulance showed up in minutes.*

I've driven to and from Chicago twice in the last month, with trips home at night, in the rain, and through miles of construction. There are a few points where the road winds, and reflectors on cones and barricades are dizzying when merged with those on semi-trucks.

Passing one small town after another, I thought to myself, "If I needed to dial 911 right now, I could never give a dispatcher my location. I'm on a 90-mile stretch between Chicago and home. Did I pass Gifford yet, or is that still up ahead?

On a similar note, I drive country roads every day. I know very well how to get from Point A to Point B, but unless I'm on my own road (Cottonwood Road, which is also County Road 1700), I rarely have any idea which county road I am actually on, or where CR 1000 N (for example) turns into CR 1000 S.**

I reflected on this to Brian, amazed that he and Mel were so on top of their location when they called for help; they had been traveling that day, and weren't on a routine route at the time.

He thought nothing of it. After two tours in Iraq, and constant Army training, it's instinctual for him to always know where he is. When he was deployed, they had to know their coordinates; if they were ambushed--and they were--and if they had to call for help—and they did—they needed to tell said help where to show up.

Well, isn't that's smart.

I contemplated then, how often I could recite my exact coordinates as I move about. Even buzzing down familiar roads, I realize, I generally know the names of only the major intersections.

Am I alone? I sent off a note to my friend Jeremy, a former 911 dispatcher, and now an Illinois Conservation Police Officer: Did people ever call in with no idea where they were? How often?

The answer:
"We frequently had people call that had no idea where they were. So we'd ask, where are you coming from, where are you headed? What's the last thing you passed? (cows, business, intersection). A lot of time with the wireless phase II data from the cell towers we could narrow it down."

Oh, that's good. But he went on: Interstate callers would tell them "I am 152 miles from Chicago." Said Jeremy, "They're just reading the bottom of their GPS. Bless their hearts."

And finally, he shared, that people often also didn't know their locations when they were indoors. He would direct them to go find a piece of mail, or run outside and look at the house number.

His advice—outside of just downright knowing where you are: Learn your Google Maps app. In an emergency (assuming you're conscious) you can put a "drop pin" in the map at your present location, and email it to an address a dispatcher provides, or send it directly to a responding officer.

It's funny, we've teased Clint (a firefighter) about his ability to recite an address from a general description. The big green house just past the one school? "That's 1234 Main Street." While it was fun to chock it up to wizardry or OCD in the past, what I've learned this week is that people that protect other people freakin' know where they are. 

...And people like me must make their jobs quite maddening. I resolve to try to stay a bit more alert about where I am, especially on open or unfamiliar roads. At the same time...thank God those protectors are there.


*The gentleman that Brian and Mel helped was conscious and coherent when he left the accident, with few visible injuries. It is believed that he will be ok, if not sore as hell, and that it's a miracle he's alive. I am incredibly proud of both of them for their quick thinking, kindness, and protective spirit. 

**After posting this, I received a text from Jeremy, explaining there is no such thing as a County Road South, or West. A road that runs North-South is CR North, and East-West, CR East. Then he gave me some math about how far away I am from the county line based on the address, but I stopped reading.