Most 911 Cellphone Calls Cannot Be Accurately Traced in DC

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An FCC report released yesterday indicates that calling 911 from a cellphone in Washington, D.C. does not allow emergency responders to pinpoint most callers' locations.

"These results reveal an alarming public safety crisis,” former FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau chief Jamie Barnett said in the Find Me 911 Coalition's release. (Barnett now serves as the director of the Coalition.) “When nine in ten emergency callers in our nation’s capital cannot be located on wireless phones, we know that the requirements for location accuracy must be updated immediately."

All 911 calls are reported in two phases, according to HNGN. "Phase I" records the caller's phone number and the station that received the call. "Phase II" is location information, usually accurate within 50 to 300 meters. The report, first published by the Find Me 911 coalition, revealed that 90 percent of calls from the first half of 2013 were logged without accurate "Phase II" data.

A separate collection of data in the report, from July-September 2013, revealed that while Verizon and Sprint each report Phase II data in over a fifth of calls, T-Mobile reports only in slightly over 3 percent of cases. AT&T, the nation's largest mobile service provider, only provided from 2.6 percent of calls.

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According to a Washington Post report, carriers are unhappy with the report, challenging that it doesn't factor in "re-bids," or a request for refreshed data to better pinpoint the location. But a survey of 911 call centers in another Post report would seem to back up the new data. Of the 1,000 surveyed, "only 187 call centers reported 'a great deal' of confidence in the location data they receive from wireless carriers."

A potential new rule for the FCC would make accurate location data for indoor wireless 911 calls mandatory within two years. It's a rule which Barnett and the Find Me 911 Coalition consider imperative.

“The FCC has put forward an outstanding proposed rule that will save more than 10,000 American lives each year,” Barnett said in the release. “Public safety leaders should continue to stand firm with their members in support of that rule and not be swayed by carrier rhetoric and empty promises of some future solution.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.