It comes as no surprise that the majority of 911 emergency calls are made from mobile phones, and often originate indoors. As the LA Times reported this week, a study found that more than half of California’s wireless 911 calls are delivered without the caller’s location information.
The FCC has found that approximately 70% of 911 calls this year were placed from mobile phones, and more than half of those calls were made indoors. What’s shocking is that when wireless 911 calls are placed from indoors, their ability to be located is significantly decreased.
Most Americans would like to believe that in a world dominated by the smartphone, dialing 911 from any phone – particularly a high-tech wireless phone – would solicit the help they need without worry. Even if the caller is unable to tell the dispatcher where they are, I would venture to guess that many assume the location is readily available, as is the case with landlines. Virtually everyone I know has a smartphone with GPS technology, and until these revelations I have readily assumed that a dispatcher would be able to locate any of us iPhone-wielding, tech-addicts in the event of an emergency. Sources have indicated that wireless calls placed from indoors and in urban areas are often out-of-reach of clear GPS signals, which makes the caller’s location unclear and difficult for an emergency dispatcher to determine.
Current FCC regulations pertaining to the delivery of 911 call locations apply only to wireless calls made outdoors, so if the caller is unable to tell the dispatcher where they are located, emergency dispatchers must rely on GPS technology that performs poorly indoors. Although the technology to address this problem exists, this lack of location accuracy standards is leaving many people who need of emergency assistance in danger – and every second matters.
With the trend of more and more Americans deciding to forgo landlines and rely exclusively on their wireless phones, this problem is sure to worsen. This is modern-day, 21st Century public safety crisis with lives at stake, and it is incumbent upon the FCC to adopt indoor location accuracy standards to match those of outdoor calls.