There are certain things that taxpayers can simply expect to work. For example, when I turn on my faucet I fully expect water to flow—water that is clean, crisp, and ready for drinking. Likewise, in the tragic event that I need to call 911 I expect the emergency dispatcher to identify my location in time to send first responders to my aide.

Unfortunately, locating 911 calls is not as foolproof as we all might assume.

According to a report released by the California Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (CALNENA), more than half of wireless calls placed in five geographic regions of California last year were delivered to first responders without accurate or complete location information. Given that Americans are on the cusp of technological advances like Google’s driverless cars or the ubiquitous Internet of Things, this is simply unacceptable.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that over 90% of Americans own cell phones. I am posting this blog on my iPhone. If I were to suddenly need to call 911, I would do so from the very same phone. I would guess that—in the event of an emergency—the vast majority of PublicCEO’s readers would likewise pull out their cell phones to dial 911. It is therefore baffling to consider that over half of wireless calls are unable to yield accurate locations.

Luckily, an easy fix exists: a minor tweak in FCC policy could make all the difference in the world. The FCC simply needs to put in place a commonsense calendar for implementation of the necessary technological updates over a two-year period—something they have considered, but failed to act upon.

And act they should: updating 911 location accuracy standards could save up to 1,200 lives each year – in California alone. It’s not just rural or geographically-isolated areas that would be affected by this change in policy: a group called the Find Me 911 Coalition estimates that hundreds of lives in cities across California could be saved if 911 operators are given the timely and accurate location data needed to find callers in crisis:

  • Los Angeles-Anaheim-Long Beach MSA                   420
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Haywood MSA                     145
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario MSA                    140
  • San Diego-Carlsbad MSA                                             103
  • Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade MSA               71
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara MSA                       61

Public safety is the one of the most important roles, functions, and responsibilities of local government. Emergency dispatchers should be equipped with the tools they need to do their jobs. The Commission must implement this rule without delay; our state’s hardworking public safety personnel and emergency responders deserve our full support.