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911 dispatchers having trouble locating cellphone users

Posted: , by Alan F.

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911 dispatchers having trouble locating cellphone users
911 emergency dispatchers say that they are running into trouble getting the police, fire or ambulance services sent to the right address whenever the initial call comes in from a cellphone. A published report Monday says that the information that these dispatchers receive from a 911 call placed with a cell phone, has a radius of a few hundred yards of where the caller is. In situations where seconds count, looking for someone in that wide a range could be fatal.

According to the U.S. Census, 38% of U.S. households now use only a cellphone. In an 18 month stretch of 911 calls monitored in California, 75% of them came from a cellphone. Obviously, tracking needs to be improved. And while GPS technology can pinpoint a cell caller, it takes as long as 15 to 30 seconds for it to be available to dispatchers. That is too long considering that responders are usually dispatched within 60 seconds. Additionally, GPS signals indoor are not nearly as strong or accurate as those sent from outdoors.

"Right now, there is no high-yield, high-accuracy, zero latency 911 technologies out there. There are tradeoffs."-Eric Hagerson, senior regulatory affairs manager, T-Mobile

Despite having to wait for it to kick in during a call, many carriers have switched to a GPS-based system for emergency calls. The carriers say that this change is now allowing 911 callers to be placed at a location within 55 yards. That things need to improve can be best seen with the use of an example. A few years ago, 21 year old Denise Amber Lee was kidnapped outside of her home in southern Florida. Despite a 6 minute cell phone conversation to 911 from the back of the kidnapper's vehicle, Lee was murdered. Steve Souder, who runs a 911 call center in Fairfax County, Virginia, says that location accuracy needs to be improved. However, Verizon's vice president of public safety policy, Donald Brittingham, doesn't seem to believe that this is a major issue.

"This is not some indication of a major problem. There may be some time issues associated with it, but we're also improving in that area."-Donald Brittingham, VP of public safety policy, Verizon Wireless

source: WSJ

10 Comments
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posted on 02 Dec 2013, 02:19 3

1. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5850; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


Something isn't adding up. I can open Google Maps and my location is shown within 10 to 15 feet on the displayed map (even indoors). Sounds like a software upgrade at the 911 center is in order.

posted on 02 Dec 2013, 02:20 1

2. tigermcm (Posts: 725; Member since: 02 Sep 2009)


has to be cause if that picture^^^ is recent with monitors from '94.........

posted on 02 Dec 2013, 19:39

6. rallyguy (Posts: 554; Member since: 13 Mar 2012)


It's because they aren't seeing GPS location, they are triangulating the towers to get a general location.
a GPS fix in about 15 to 20 seconds is actually pretty good. Because it's going to take at least 10 seconds for the dispatcher to ask enough questions to find out that an emergency is going on. It will probably be over a minute until police or fire arrive. So get them going in the general area, and then pinpoint it whilethey are on their way.d This isn't a major issue at all actually. This is why the dispatcher always asks "What is your location". Sorry if you want security in case you are thrown in the back of a car then carry a GPS unit like a Tom Tom with you.
This is true with systems such as On Star. I have been sent to many "air bag deployment" calls, and found nothing when I arrived at the location. This isn't known to the general public. It can be even a half mile off.

posted on 02 Dec 2013, 02:48 4

3. androiphone20 (Posts: 1472; Member since: 10 Jul 2013)


User : hello 911, theres like a thousand dead people here
911 : okay, calm down where are you?
User : ...at the cemetery

posted on 03 Dec 2013, 00:23 1

7. reckless562 (Posts: 851; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


:-D LOOOOOLLLLL!!!!

posted on 05 Dec 2013, 16:35

10. W.P._Android_in_that_Order (Posts: 206; Member since: 15 Feb 2012)


plus 1

posted on 02 Dec 2013, 02:58 6

4. tacarat (Posts: 165; Member since: 22 Apr 2013)


"Hello, 911? The NSA is tracking me. I managed to give them the slip, but could you please send help? Oh, and keep this between us."

posted on 03 Dec 2013, 00:24

8. reckless562 (Posts: 851; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


almost lol........ still plus 1

posted on 02 Dec 2013, 06:19 1

5. xtroid2k (Posts: 381; Member since: 11 Jan 2010)


I don't care if its 2050, technology will always have gaps. When it comes to dealing with emergencies, being prepared such as doing your best to always know were you are. Making sure your children know basic contact info. I'm surprised how many young kids around 5 and six can't tell me basic info. I was given the old school training which I gave to NY child now. This training was very helpful as a teen in the ealey 2000's when my mother had a heart attack while on vacation in another state, my learned instincts saved her life. Point being always being prepared as best as possible can help fill gaps that technology leaves behind

posted on 03 Dec 2013, 13:02

9. mike2959 (Posts: 247; Member since: 08 Oct 2011)


So let's test how difficult it is for 911 to locate all of us.
Everyone dial 911, when the operator answers, simply hang up. When they call back, don't answer.
I am willing to bet you will have a real unhappy cop up in your grill shortly. That's really the QUICKEST way to get their attention.

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