Whether you use your phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) to get directions, track your fitness or simply enjoy the convenience of having a phone with you in case of an emergency, cell phones have made our lives easier.
Yet, when an emergency arises, most cell phone owners aren’t aware that even though your phone has GPS, 911 operators are often unable to determine the exact location of your call, even when inside your own home.
This fatal flaw can add a level of confusion and complexity to an emergency call, often resulting in delays in responders reaching you in your time of need.
“"An estimated 10,000 people each year would be saved with accurate location standards from indoor cell phone calls," cites an FCC estimate for the number of lives that could be saved by a one-minute reduction in emergency response times.
So, how is this possible, in an age where apps such as Facebook, Google and more can access your mobile phone’s location, while critical services like 911 are left blind?
The reason lies within how both modern mobile phones and 911 call centers are set up. While most phones have GPS, voice calls often rely on location data being sent via the cellphone network and their towers. This can result in long delays in providing a 911 call center location data, or in many instances, no location data at all.
“Today's cell phone system does not automatically send location data when you dial 911. After the call comes in, the dispatcher's computer transmits a digital request to the cellphone network seeking the phone's location. The data exchange can take seconds or even minutes. Sometimes, it doesn't return a location at all.” - USA Today
This is further complicated due to the fact that while phones have made large technological advances in terms of size, power and the ability to use GPS, the technology most 911 call centers were designed for has not.
“...most 911 centers determine a mobile caller’s location based on technology that was adopted two decades ago — before cell phones were equipped with GPS. So, instead of obtaining location information directly from the phone, the 911 center estimates the caller’s location based on which cell tower is in use.” - Fox News
Sadly, delays in location data isn’t the only flaw with modern cell phones. In many cases, even when 911 dispatch is able to ascertain your mobile phone’s location, it can be wrong.
“During a supervised test, a Fox News reporter dialed 911 from his cellphone. Although he placed the call while standing next to a 911 operator inside the Alpharetta center, her computer screen showed the address of a cell tower more than one mile away.” - Fox News