9 of 10 emergency wireless calls lack accurate location data in D.C. area

9 of 10 emergency wireless calls lack accurate location data in D.C. area
By Chuong H Nguyen on 10 Jul 2014 05:50 pm EDT
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Don't cut the cord just yet on your home phones! FCC data reveals that 9 out of 10 emergency calls made with a cell phone in Washington, D.C. lack accurate location information, making it harder for emergency workers to respond in a crisis. The data was collected in the first half of 2013 and only covers the D.C. area in the U.S.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, public interest group Find Me 911 reported:

According to data filed with the FCC by the D.C. Office of Unified Communications last fall, just 10.3% of the wireless calls made to the District's 9-1-1 communications center from December 2012 to July 2013 included the latitude-longitude (or "Phase II" location) needed to find a caller. Of the 385,341 wireless calls made over that period, just 39,805 had that "Phase II" information, while the remaining "Phase I" calls only showed the nearest cell tower, an area too broad to be useful for emergency responders.

The report cites that Verizon and Sprint were able to deliver location accurately on about 24 percent of calls each while GSM providers like T-Mobile and AT&T fared worse with 3.2% and 2.6% accuracy respectively.

This is especially alarming given that many households have given up on a landline and rely solely on their cellphones for voice communications.

The agency says that up to 10,000 additional lives could be saved with better location information, which would help reduce emergency response times. The FCC already is proposing a new rule that would address this issue, which would make it far more accurate than the A-GPS system used by most phones and carriers. A-GPS requires a direct line of sight to satellites to report location, which means it could fail in buildings and dense urban environments.

The FCC's new proposal is being endorsed by many emergency services associations, including those that represent police chiefs, sheriffs, firefighters, EMS, EMTs, and others.

Source: Find Me 911

Reader comments

9 of 10 emergency wireless calls lack accurate location data in D.C. area

45 Comments

I wonder how many lives were lost due to those "minutes" of error... cos when in an emergency, seconds counts!

Posted via a sexy QTEN

This is why it pays to have location awareness wherever you go. For example, I recently had to call 911 to report a driver who was driving on the wrong side of the Interstate. Because I knew my surroundings so well I was able to enable dispatch to send a sheriff very quickly. I know this is not always possible but it does pay off.

Perhaps they should create a 911 app, assuming that one doesn't exist. When you click on the app, it calls 911 while it sends the phone's gps coordinates, owner name, contact info and emergency contact info. It could also open a direct chat for those who are unable to respond vocally.

Posted using my very awesome Z30

Gps coordinates are OK but only IF accurate. Often times dispatched to gps coordinates accurate within 500m radius. That's half km in either direction. That's a LOT of potential houses, buildings, etc.

Posted via CB10

What is the new fcc implementation? It does not help to have you r coordinates sent when your phone has none.....

I did not think that it is this bad.... What about saying the address on the phone? Whenever I made an emergency call (twice) it was always followed by the exact location.

Posted via CB10

Don't know if it's related, but my gps fails me almost 50% of the time when I drive in DC

Posted using my VZW BlackBerry Z30

Haha! I haven't had a landline in years. But, they ARE good backups when the power goes out.

 Proud BB10 user. The best kept secret in mobile 

I just called a buddy of mine who is on the DC police force - he says that he would probably agree with that statistic, especially on the DC / Maryland border (PG County). Scary.

Posted via CB10

True. I used to live right off of Southern Avenue on the Maryland side. I called 911; my call went to DC's emergency dispatch center. I had to be transferred to Maryland. Fortunately, an alert police officer drove by and took care of the situation while I was being transferred.

Why not hard code into the OS Of every phone that when you dial 911 it automatically sends your gps coordinates.

Posted via CB10

What do you think latitude/longitude are? You can't send what you don't have. GPS coordinates come from satellites, which requires a line of sight... Something that can be a problem when indoor...

Whoa! Not good! I am thinking of people in an intense situation that dial 911 and are then busy attending to their emergency believing the police can find their location. Maybe even not able to speak, but figuring Dispatch can hear what is going on and has their location.

But it sounds strange. No study would be considered valid that only collected data from one area. Having something to compare it to would be so valuable. Surely the FCC is not acting on such limited data? There must be more to the story than we are getting. I think it is good they are at least working on something more accurate, tho I sure wonder what.

As for knowing where you are .... always a good thing. However, a couple of times I have been in a blizzard with very little idea where I was. When you are driving more slowly and nearly blind, your sense of timing and location are seriously compromised.

The idea of an app 911 is the solution, but that must be reliable at 100% AND not serve other tracking purposes or commercial means. Delicate, but with appropriate laws and checking, should be useful. I was curious when I first used a BlackBerry phone, in the terms of the contract there is mentioned that the use of the device is not a life-preserver, it is mentioned that BlackBerry could not endorse legal responsibility in a life-threatening situation. Some carriers worldwide have the same legal notice in their contract. Guess it is a good thing to debate about this emergency case. Better before than after a threatening day to day situation.

Posted via CB10

calls from BlackBerry phones should indicate/show that it is being made from a BlackBerry device.

OS 10.2.1.3175 - White Z10 Bell - My FIRST full touch screen phone.

two issues here: (1) the lack of token ring type of redundancy-although the cloud should in theory provided redundancy, but you never can confirm - it is just out there - you need faith. (2) the VoIP uses fragmented multi-path - great for data transmission in cloud, but lack of locational accuracy - unless you peg gps coordiate as a saperate data string - as part of 911 IP-call. Unless both are resolved, I am not cutting the cord (not taking any chances). IMO.

I lost my house do to a fire Monday July 7 2014. I call 911 and it went to the county first then they had to transfered me to the city 911 dispatch. other than that 911 worked ok here in Ohio. Everyone that has a landline or cellphone has to pay a surcharge for 911 service. With trillions of dollars going into the 911 system it should work better than it does. Are the 911 operators asking the right questions with the callers or are they just trying to rely on the location on the device? I do realize there are 911 calls that the victim or person in trouble can't talk at the time of the call but why doesn't something that is raking in so much money not work better than it does?

I don't say other don't pay for 911. I was saying that the money they are collecting, the service should work better. The reason I said 911 worked ok in my post was the fire dept was sent to an address one block over from my house. The dispatcher corrected the route of the fire trucks after asking me for the address of the house on fire. It was just announced this week 911 is starting to go automated.

Sorry to hear. God bless you. Hope you have insurance or that you're otherwise able to recover your loss.

Pasted via CB chen

8 Reasons to keep your Land Line

1. 911 Calls go to the local 911 center instead of a regional one, makes for more prompt response.

2. If the power is out, hard-wired phones still work, conserve your cell battery.

3. Talking for long periods is much more comfortable with a larger phone on your shoulder.

4. Better sounding, more reliable - often Cell signal inside the house isn't as good.

5. Calls to other countries are frequently cheaper, Wireless providers like to rip us off

6. If someone is in the house and doesn't have a cell phone, or has a depleted iPhone or Android battery, can still call out. (Goes along with #1)

7. The phone ring is almost always louder and can be heard throughout the house or wake you up for urgent calls if your cell is in another room.

8. DSL requires an Analog land line and is usually the cheapest broadband available.

Posted using CB10 on my Verizon Z10

I have found that these results ate due to classic CDMA being known to travel through walls while GSM has some difficulty with that. Hence, the more accurate results. However; GSM devices can do simultaneous voice and data where classic CDMA devices don't. Go figure.

Posted via CB10

You lose VOIP like Magic Jack during power outage as well. I think it says it has 911 capabilities, but I don't know if it can be trusted.

Posted via CB from "Z" best

Sadly, not surprised. There was a deadly fire in Staten Island where a couple of nuns lost their lives. FDNY was delayed in getting to the fire. Cause of delay was partly attributed to a mix-up with getting the correct address, and that the call was made on a cellphone, so dispatch could not pinpoint the location.

Posted via CB10

Probably much the same in toronto and other areas of canada, UK, Europe and the US.

Posted via CrackBerry 10 (CB10) application using my BlackBerry Q10.