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Survey of 9-1-1 Dispatchers Finds Many Indoor Callers Cannot be Located

Date: 2014-04-28
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Problems locating wireless callers to 9-1-1 have recently been highlighted in national and state media. FindMe911, a coalition to ensure that 9-1-1 works in today's wireless age, has released new information from the perspective of 9-1-1 dispatchers and managers.

Find Me 911 is an effort supported by more than 190,000 individuals, as well as national and local organizations representing a broad range of 9-1-1 operators and first responders—emergency medical services personnel, fire fighters and police. Find Me 911 seeks to ensure that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) move to quickly establish a reasonable, measurable level of location accuracy for emergency calls made indoors, enabling first responders to locate emergency calls from wireless phones from all locations rapidly and efficiently.

The coalition had completed a survey of managers and dispatchers from Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) that handle 9-1-1 calls in all 50 states.  The results found that most dispatchers have difficulty locating wireless callers through the location information provided by the carriers, particularly when they are calling from indoor locations.  This survey of those who handle the 9-1-1 calls to our country’s Public Safety Answering Points paints a vivid picture of the urgent, often life-and-death, challenges faced by public safety professionals in trying to locate callers in need on wireless phones, particularly when they are calling from indoor locations.

The responses of 9-1-1 professionals from all 50 states show that the percentage of calls placed to 9-1-1 from wireless phones is skyrocketing. Three out of every four calls—or 76 percent—to 9-1-1 now come from wireless phones rather than land lines. Of those wireless calls, 64 percent are made from inside buildings—a scenario that reduces or negates the accuracy of carrier-provided location information.

Current FCC regulations establish location accuracy requirements, but they are applied only to call originating outdoors.  Nearly every 9-1-1 call center faces the problem of receiving calls from those who cannot tell the dispatcher their location, with 97 percent reporting they had received at least one such wireless 9-1-1 call within the last year, and 40 percent saying they regularly receive such wireless calls. The reasons varied from the caller being lost, being too young to know their address, not speaking English, having Alzheimer’s or age-related confusion, suffering a stroke or other medical emergency, or being deaf or hard of hearing.

Eighty-two percent of 9-1-1 professionals said they do not have a great deal of confidence in location information provided by carriers, and 54 percent said the latitude and longitude data provided by carriers is “regularly” inaccurate. Further, a disturbing 48 percent of respondents said that calls are regularly misrouted to the wrong call center.

The support for the FCC’s proposed rule requiring accurate indoor location information was virtually unanimous: 99 percent of 9-1-1 professionals said they supported the FCC’s proposed requirements, and an equal 99 percent said adoption of the rule was “critically” or “very” important for public safety in their communities. Ninety-four percent opposed waiting an additional three years to implement the rule, as some carriers have proposed.

The survey results are both supported and complemented by more than 200 powerful stories from individual 9-1-1 professionals about difficulties they have faced in locating callers with inaccurate location information, as well as the tragic consequences for some callers. All of this has been submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  

Read the executive summary of the Survey here (PDF file). 

To read more than 200 personal stories of 9-1-1 dispatchers and managers (listed by state), please click here (PDF file).

A summary of news coverage (by state) of wireless 9-1-1 location stories are available here (PDF file).

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via FindMe911, 4/24/14)

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