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Survey of 9-1-1 Dispatchers Finds Many Indoor Callers Cannot Be Located on Wireless Phones

Most 9-1-1 Dispatchers Say They Regularly Receive Inaccurate Wireless Location Data from Carriers; Offer Near Unanimous Support for Proposed FCC Rule Requiring Indoor Location Accuracy

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- A survey of managers and dispatchers from Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) that handle 9-1-1 calls in all 50 states 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. The survey results and more than 200 powerful personal stories of the challenges in locating wireless callers are being submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to assist the Commission in its consideration of a rule that would require wireless carriers to provide accurate indoor location data for wireless callers within two years. 

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According to the survey of 1,014 PSAP managers and employees, the majority of emergency calls now come from wireless phones, but the location information they receive from carriers is unreliable and often inaccurate:

  • Majority of 9-1-1 calls are now wireless: 76 percent of 9-1-1 calls now come from wireless phones, rather than land lines;
  • Most wireless calls come from indoors: 64 percent of those wireless 9-1-1 calls are made from inside buildings;
  • Nearly every 9-1-1 call center is facing this problem: 97 percent of 9-1-1 call centers have received a wireless 9-1-1 call within the last year from a caller who could not tell the dispatcher his or her location;
  • Wireless location data is not trustworthy: 82 percent of 9-1-1 personnel do not have a great deal of confidence in the location data provided to their PSAPs by the wireless carriers;
  • Wireless location data is often inaccurate: 54 percent said that the latitude and longitude (i.e. Phase II) data provided by carriers that is supposed to show a caller's location is "regularly" inaccurate;
  • Misrouted calls are a significant related problem: 48 percent of respondents said that 9-1-1 calls are regularly misrouted to the wrong PSAP in their area; and
  • First responders need accurate location information immediately: 79 percent said they need accurate location information within 15 seconds of call arrival.

When asked about the proposed rule, PSAP employees expressed near unanimous support, emphasizing its vital importance to public safety:

  • 99 percent of 9-1-1 employees said they supported the FCC's proposed requirements for indoor location accuracy within two years;
  • 99 percent said the adoption of that rule was "critically" or "very" important for public safety in their communities; and
  • 94 percent opposed waiting an additional three years to implement the rule, as some carriers have proposed.

"These results are truly staggering," said Jamie Barnett, former Chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and Director of the Find Me 911 Coalition, which conducted the survey. "The men and women on the front lines of our 9-1-1 system overwhelmingly say that they need accurate indoor location information to do their jobs and save lives, yet they are not getting it today. This survey, and the powerful personal stories of 9-1-1 employees from around the country, removes any doubt about the life-and-death urgency of the FCC's rulemaking on this issue."  

Other results of the survey included:

  • Wireless 9-1-1 calls are skyrocketing: 78 percent said the percentage of wireless calls to their PSAP has increased "dramatically" over the last five years.
  • Indoor locations are common for wireless 9-1-1 calls: Significant percentages of PSAPs had received wireless 9-1-1 calls from apartment buildings (93 percent), office buildings (88 percent), hotels (78 percent), retirement homes (70 percent), hospitals (55 percent) and college dorms (36 percent) in the last year.
  • Many callers cannot verbally share their locations: Nearly every PSAP had received at least one call in the prior year from someone who could not be located because the caller was lost (90 percent), gave the wrong address (86 percent), spoke a different language (76 percent), was too young to know their address (73 percent), had Alzheimer's or age-related confusion (68 percent), was having a stroke or medical emergency (68 percent), or was deaf or hard of hearing (33 percent).
  • Such calls are not infrequent: 40 percent of respondents said they regularly receive wireless 9-1-1 calls from callers who cannot verbally share a location.
  • PSAPs do not consistently receive accurate location data from carriers: 48 percent of respondents said they only sometimes, rarely, or never receive accurate Phase II (latitude-longitude) location data with wireless 9-1-1 calls.
  • The problem is not improving: 54 percent of respondents said the issue of getting accurate location data is staying the same or getting worse.
  • Accurate location information is vital to PSAPs: 99 percent of PSAPs said it is critically or very important for them to get accurate location information from the carriers to find callers.

The full survey results can be found at www.findme911.org. In addition, survey respondents were asked to share any personal experiences related to the location accuracy issue. 

Among the more than two hundred responses to that open-ended question were the following powerful personal stories:

We had some kids who repeatedly called 911, and just a small kid would sometimes talk to the 911 operator... We could never talk to an adult. The kid would just talk. Made some statements about being in the basement. Never said he was in trouble. One dispatcher took it upon herself to locate the kids.  Basically she could get the wireless information to the block. She had officers drive with siren on, and finally officers located several children who had been locked in a basement in the Kansas summer heat for several days.
-   Kansas 9-1-1 employee

We had an overdose subject call us and every time we rebid the call it was at a different location around our city. Had the father not called with the name of the apartment building he lived in and had we not had the phone number for an official at the apartment building, the person would have died.    
-   Idaho 9-1-1 employee

Our PSAP recently received what sounded like a very serious domestic assault call from a wireless phone, and we never could get an accurate location of the call. We attempted rebid several times, and no accurate location was found. We could not provide service to this desperate caller.
-   Minnesota 9-1-1 employee

[We] had a caller with Lou Gehrig's disease. He called 911 for an ambulance but was unable to speak, and the 911 information would not zone in on his location... [The] caller was in physical distress, but we would have never found him based on the 911 info.
-   California 9-1-1 employee

We had a caller call in [and] all we could hear was what sounded like a struggle to breathe and loud music in the background. He called from his cell phone, however there was no Phase II, only Phase I where it shows only a triangle of area that he could be calling from... The subject was eventually found and he had been murdered by having his throat cut.
-   Texas 9-1-1 employee

[We received a] sexual assault call from a chemically impaired young adult who was not able to give location and the wireless location given was too broad. The actual address of the incident was not discovered until the victim went to the police station in person the next afternoon to report the incident.
-   Massachusetts 9-1-1 employee

Five month[s] ago a caller was bound and tied after a home invasion. He used a wireless phone and was able call 9-1-1 but was unable to speak because of his mouth was taped. The Phase II was able to get a location of the general area and not a specific address.
-   New Jersey 9-1-1 employee

A call was received from a young child indicating that her mother was unresponsive. It took nearly 45 minutes to ascertain the correct address and even then the location provided by Phase II rebidding put the location of the caller to only within a 1000-yard radius.
-   New Hampshire 9-1-1 employee

[We had a] kidnapping situation where a traumatized female woke up after being sexually assaulted, [She] was not from the community and had no idea where she was. Lat/long showed an apt complex with multiple buildings and multiple apts. It took 20 to 25 minutes to get an accurate position, and officers still had to knock door-to-door for several minutes to get the correct apt.
-   Iowa 9-1-1 employee

Six-year-old boy, unable to read, [whose] father was in a diabetic emergency and the child was on a cell phone. We were unable to locate him quickly. It took the dispatcher 45 minutes to find them before first responders could be sent.
-   Michigan 9-1-1 employee

A toddler's grandparent fell in the shower, and the toddler was able to call 911 but was unable to give any part of the address. The phone would not give any location data.
-   North Carolina 9-1-1 employee

Female ACTIVELY being assaulted while her assailant laughed in the background. We were never able to locate her.
-   Texas 9-1-1 employee

Received a 911 from a cell phone with an open line. It was a female that sounded as if she had her mouth gagged. She was getting beat [and] even her dog was being hurt. The lat/long came to an abandoned building in St Louis City... Could not pinpoint her location, and her phone died. She was never found.
-   Missouri 9-1-1 employee

The subject could not talk because she was vomiting. The subject called 911 twice, and the 911 operator attempted to call her back several times. The subject could never give her address, and the phone was only hitting on a tower... By the time officer arrived on scene, the subject was deceased. She had been vomiting blood for some time. She was choking on her blood at the time of the call, which was the reason for her inability to communicate her address.
-   Colorado 9-1-1 employee

[Our] county had a person pass away while on the phone with our communicator within the past 24 months because we could not locate her in an apartment building. It took us over 30 minutes to locate her because we could not get Phase II data. She took her last breath while on the phone with the communicator. One life is too many when the technology is available to solve the problem.
-   South Carolina 9-1-1 employee

* Responses excerpted and edited for grammar and spelling.

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted online among 1,014 managers and employees of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) from March 27April 3, 2014. According to the National Emergency Number Association, there are 5,976 primary and secondary PSAPs in the United States in April 2014. Of those, survey respondents represented 880 individual PSAPs in all 50 states, or approximately 15 percent of all PSAPs. PSAP managers and employees were invited to participate in the survey via direct e-mails and online advertisements targeted to PSAP managers and employees. The survey was conducted via the SurveyGizmo website, and it used an automatic mechanism to disqualify non-PSAP employees. The employment of respondents was further validated against known PSAP registries and via geographic data tied to IP address. The survey had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

About the Find Me 911 Coalition

Find Me 911 is an effort supported by more than 190,000 individuals, as well as national and local organizations. The individuals and organizations represent a broad range of 911 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 forward quickly to 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.


Andrew Weinstein
Find Me 911 Coalition  

Read more news from Find Me 911 Coalition.

SOURCE Find Me 911 Coalition

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