April 26, 2014
A survey of 911 dispatchers reveals the horrible, human cost of bad technology
Gary Loffin is the head of a public safety answering point — better known as a 911 dispatch office — in York County, S.C. One day, the office got an emergency call from a woman's cell phone. If she'd been on a landline, finding her would've been a cinch. But because the wireless device couldn't give dispatchers an accurate geolocation fix, it took first-responders half an hour to find her. By the time they arrived, she had died. The Washington Post responds.
Loffin is one of hundreds of public safety officials who say an alarming proportion of 911 calls go unfulfilled because wireless technology fails to help locate victims in time.
... Dozens of pages of a new report on wireless 911 calls published by a coalition of first-responders known as Find Me 911. The group, which includes the U.S. First Responders Association and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, surveyed some 1,000 public safety answering points (PSAPS) nationwide — amounting to roughly 15 percent of all 911 call centers, according to spokesman Andrew Weinstein.
"It just hit a nerve," said Weinstein. "Across the board, they're saying they have regular problems getting data, and strongly, almost to a PSAP, they say that they are regularly getting calls from callers who cannot give locations for one reason or another."
The Federal Communications Commission estimates that upwards of 70 percent of all emergency calls take place from a cell phone. Of those, 64 percent come from indoors, the report finds. That's problematic because many phones today are impossible to find with the pinpoint accuracy that first-responders need to locate someone in a crisis.
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