Radio waves don't recognize and stop at municipal and state borders.
Years ago I called 911 from my car to report an accident on the NY Thruway in Yonkers. I connected through a cell tower across the Hudson River and was connected to New Jersey State Police. I hung up and had the same problem two more times. On the third attempt I asked if they could transfer my call to the New York cops. They couldn't transfer, and I couldn't find a phone booth. I hope a cop discovered the crash in time to help the victims.
Now the Staten Island Advance has reported a similar problem:
After Jacyln Massa and her husband moved to Livingston, they got a word of caution from their neighbors: Do not use your cellphone to call 911 because, chances are, the people who pick up will be across the Kill van Kull in Bayonne, New Jersey. The advice also holds true for those dialing from slivers of land along the waterfront in Port Richmond and Mariners Harbor, according to Bayonne officials.
"I'm a nurse myself, and in a situation where it could be life or death, it's really insane to be patched to New Jersey," said Mrs. Massa, who did a test call with her Verizon phone, and sure enough reached Bayonne from in front of her home. "It's kind of scary."
Whereas 911 dialed from a land line will allow the emergency center to locate the caller, the same does not hold true for cellphone calls.
Emergency calls can also be routed to distant centers when one center becomes overloaded. Such was the case on Sept. 11 when Bayonne received dozens of calls from people trapped in the Twin Towers.
Bayonne operators are instructed to answer the 911 calls by saying "Bayonne Police."
But if they forget to make that clear, or if the panicked caller does not hear, precious seconds can be lost before the call gets put through the direct link to New York City 911 dispatchers.