Cell phone tech flaw putting 911 callers at risk
Most people would agree cell phones are our lives. But in emergency moments, what cells phones aren't doing could put lives in danger.
The flaw in the new cell phone technology is that it’s not very compatible with 911 dispatch systems across the country. Calls are being lost and coming into 911 without addresses of where people are in need of help
The 911 system came online in 1968, designed to be a lifeline for landlines.
“Landlines would give you a very specific location whereas the cell phones give you an area -- very general areas,” explained Dallas County Sheriff’s Dispatcher Amy Schenewark. “And most calls nowadays do come in on cell phones.”
Studies say 61 percent of cell phone calls come in without vital information.
“It’s really frustrating when someone is in distress and calling 911 and a tower pops up and you can’t get their exact location,” said Schenewark. “Sometimes, they’re not calm enough to give it to you.”
In several cases, 911 callers aren’t coherent enough to give a location.
Earlier this month, Mesquite dispatcher Christy Russell struggled to find where a 14-year-old who was in the middle of a heat stroke was calling 911 from.
“The original location I had was showing in a field, not an alley,” explained Russell. “I started trying to update the location to get a better one. I did eventually get a better location in an alley, and that’s where we were able to find him.”
“It’s very frustrating because we can hear that help is needed but often time you have to go through loopholes to find where the caller is located,” said Dallas County Sheriff’s Dispatcher Supervisor Heidi Mosley.
Dispatchers often have to fax cell phone carriers to get them to send dispatchers precise locations when time matters. The carries will then email an exact longitude and latitude of the caller.
“The best solution in a perfect world would be for the cell phone carriers to be able to provide us access to that location, like the pizza carriers or Uber can,” explained Beth English with the National Emergency Number Association.
Cell phone carriers plan to have 41 percent of cell phones deliver exact locations by next year and 80 percent by 2021.
Until then, English advises everyone to know where they are at all times.
“If they don’t know where they are and they can’t tell us where they are, we can’t send help,” she said.
“I find it ironic that you can get addresses on Facebook and social media with a click,” said Schenewark. “And when someone’s in distress, you get a tower.”
There is a program called Smart 911. The program registers your name and home address in a database and connects that information to your cell phone. When you call 911, that information would pop up for dispatchers
Not all cities have the program. Check with your local police department to see if they participate in the Smart 911 program.