Many 9-1-1 Calls Lack Accurate Location Data


 
 

Mitch Weiss | | Monday, January 6, 2014


CHARLOTTE, N.C. A coalition pushing a federal agency to update wireless technology for emergency callers is pointing to problems in North Carolina to raise awareness of the issue.

Nearly half of all North Carolina calls received by 911 emergency centers in June 2013 came from wireless phones that did not include accurate information on the caller's location, according to the Find Me 911 Coalition.

The group, which represents emergency responders and 911 dispatchers across the nation, said it analyzed data submitted by the North Carolina 911 Board to the Federal Communications Commission.

"If you use a cellphone, you probably think that a 911 operator can find you if you call in an emergency. Unfortunately, that assumption could be fatally flawed," said Jamie Barnett, the coalition's director and former head of the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau.

At issue is what happens when someone calls 911 from a cellphone. With a landline, dispatchers can provide first responders with an exact location.

But it gets complicated when someone calls 911 from a cellphone - especially if the emergency call is made indoors.

When cellphones became widely available in the early 1990s, people making emergency calls had to give their exact location.

By the late 1990s, wireless carriers had technology that used the nearest cellphone towers to find a caller. As carriers began upgrading their systems and cellphones in the mid-2000s, some companies began shifting to Global Positioning System technology to locate emergency callers.

But the satellite navigation system doesn't work as well indoors, which presents a challenge to first responders, Barnett said.

Wireless carriers say they are providing accurate location information and continuing to improve technology.

The debate over the new technology was renewed this summer when the state of California found that cellphone calls coming into dispatch centers often lacked critical information about a caller's location.

The state gave the data to the FCC, which encouraged other states to share information. North Carolina was one of the states that responded.

The coalition said it found that 211,241 of the 447,918 wireless calls received in North Carolina 911 emergency centers in June 2013 lacked accurate location information.

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