Study Reveals 911 Call Centers are “Woefully Behind the Times”

UPDATE In today’s world, we’re able to pay bills, schedule a ride pickup and even remotely control the thermostat and lights in our houses using our phones. But when we most need them—during times of emergency—our devices might prove useless, according to a recent study by south Florida’s WBBH-TV.

Investigators from the station placed phone calls using the four major carriers from inside a local 911 dispatch center. Each time, dispatchers could only pinpoint the caller’s location within three to four miles, as they were relying on pings from the nearest cell tower.

Charlotte County’s E911 coordinator Laurie Anderson explained that the technology dispatcher centers used were designed for landline devices, not cell phones. Current 911 technology dates to the 1960s and 1970s, Inside Towers reported.  Furthermore, Anderson said dispatchers rely on the carriers for the location accuracy of wireless 911 callers.    

“Because we’re relying on information provided from the carriers, the 911 centers do not have any control over the accuracy that is provided,” Anderson told WBBH-TV.

Stakeholders are, however, developing new technologies that enable more precise locating of wireless 911 calls, including technology developed by RapidSOS. Using Bluetooth and WiFi technology, the company says it can identify a caller’s location within a range of 15 meters.

WBBH-TV tested the technology and found it correctly identified their exact location within seconds, as opposed to the clunky location system currently used by traditional 911 call centers.

Currently, RapidSOS is working with local 911 dispatch centers to integrate the technology into more centers, Inside Towers reported. The FCC is involved in the next-generation 911 transition, passing rules in 2015 requiring wireless carriers to use updated technologies to improve location accuracy, especially indoors. By 2021, carriers must accurately locate wireless 911 callers 80 percent of the time, reports CNet.

May 15, 2017      

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