Did you know that when a person calls a 911 operator from a mobile phone, they often aren’t able to locate the caller? If this is startling to you, it should be. As a retired Deputy Sheriff, I can tell you that every minute that first responders need to spend trying to find the callers who need their help could be the difference between life and death.
It’s not that the technology isn’t available, because it is. In fact, there is a pretty easy technological fix to this problem — unfortunately, phone carriers are hesitant to implement the fix.
Earlier this year, the FCC proposed a rule that would update their standards regarding location accuracy for 911 calls, and put in place a commonsense calendar for implementation of the necessary technological updates over a two-year period. With these updates, police, fire, and emergency care personnel will be able to quickly locate and help those in need of protection, rescue, or care.
The Commission estimates that this proposed rule, which would ensure that emergency dispatchers receive the timely and accurate location data needed to find callers in crisis, would save about 10,000 lives every year across the country, including the lives of an estimated 1,200 Californians.
Public safety officials across the state are well aware of the problem. A report released last year by the California Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association found that over half of wireless calls placed in CA were missing accurate location information.
I worked for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for over 31 years and can tell you that when someone has to call 911, it is often a chaotic and unpleasant experience. The person dialing the phone is experiencing a debilitating cocktail of emotions: fear, confusion, and the terror of helplessness. In this vulnerable state, they should reasonably expect that the emergency dispatcher is able to glean the necessary information to come to their aid. After all, this is 2014.
A myriad of apps allow us to voluntarily give up this information all the time. Facebook allows us to geotag our location at any given time. Foursquare keeps our friends up-to-date on where we are having dinner. And Google Maps can guide us as we walk, bike, bus, or drive to our given destination. And while many of us are worried about the lack of privacy on our wireless devices these days, this location technology would only be activated upon placing a call to 911 – when locating the caller could mean the difference between life and death.
Law enforcement and emergency response personnel should have the tools they need to do what they do best: save lives. The FCC needs to stand its ground and convince cell phone carriers that this change in policy is sorely needed. The technology exists and the consequences of failing to put it to use are severe.
Rick Roelle recently retired as a Lieutenant after 31 years with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Roelle has served on the Apple Valley Town Council since 2004 and spent 8 years as a member of the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG).