Post Tech Transitions

FCC Should Ensure That Help Will Arrive For 911 Calls

September 29, 2014 , , ,

Public Knowledge recently wrote about a growing concern that 911 emergency services were having an alarming amount of difficulty locating callers who placed calls from indoors using mobile devices. This means that for many callers experiencing an emergency situation, help may not arrive on time.

Adding to this concern is the ever-growing reliance on wireless devices as the primary means of communication for many households in the US today, especially lower income or younger households. Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering stronger rules on wireless carriers that ensure 911 calls are more accurately traced. If these stricter rules are put in place, it is estimated they will save at least 10,000 lives per year, in addition to mitigating the effects of life altering injuries such as strokes, heart attacks, and falls.

Right now, it can be extremely difficult for first responders to accurately locate people indoors who call from a mobile phone, due to a lack of strong rules for wireless companies. While first responders may be able to find your block or even your apartment using less specific cell tower information, they often will not know what floor or apartment number they are looking for. This process wastes precious time that could save people from life threatening situations.

It is estimated that of the 240 million calls placed yearly to 911, almost 70 percent originate from mobile devices.  Of that, almost 50 percent are made inside a building. Currently, the wireless companies are required to be able to deliver location information that is within a few hundred meters of the caller, but these rules only address calls made outdoors. Many of the people who depend on wireless devices are not informed that calling from a mobile device indoors places them at a potential disadvantage during emergency situations.

As more households discontinue landline service and depend more on wireless access, the need for broader standards that apply to this technology become increasingly important. Location accuracy is critically important for victims of domestic violence, the deaf and hard of hearing community, and children who may not know where they are located. According to a study released by the FindMe911 coalition, 45% of children live in wireless-only households. Nearly 50% of households in poverty rely on wireless-only access, and almost 22% of senior citizens depend on this technology for life saving access.

As a result of consumers’ growing reliance on wireless and reported failures in locating callers on time, the FCC has proposed rules that require carriers to give 911 dispatchers callers’ locations within 100 meters after their first connection with a cell phone tower, and 50 meters after the dispatchers search using location accuracy, such as GPS. They have also included a requirement for vertical location, or the ability to find what floor and building callers are located in.

The public should not have to worry about carriers complying with rules that impact the effectiveness of emergency services, nor should the public be responsible for taking on the cost of individually integrating the necessary technology for reliable emergency services. The fact that the industry has failed to collectively address this despite widespread reports of failed location accuracy demonstrates the need for FCC intervention.

Public Knowledge believes in embracing new technologies, but it should not be done the expense of the public or their lives. Today’s communications infrastructure can and should ensure that everyone has access to networks and services that adequately serve everyone, regardless of race, sex, age, location, technology adoption, income level, or disability. Public Knowledge supports the FCC’s proposed rules as an important step toward ensuring first responders can consistently reach communities on time.

Sign our petition here to tell the FCC they must ensure that help will arrive for all 911 calls.


Image Credit: Flickr KayVee. INC

Infographic Image Credit: FindMe911 Survey