9 of 10 emergency wireless calls lack accurate location data in D.C. area

Don't cut the cord just yet on your home phones! FCC data reveals that 9 out of 10 emergency calls made with a cell phone in Washington, D.C. lack accurate location information, making it harder for emergency workers to respond in a crisis. The data was collected in the first half of 2013 and only covers the D.C. area in the U.S.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, public interest group Find Me 911 reported:

According to data filed with the FCC by the D.C. Office of Unified Communications last fall, just 10.3% of the wireless calls made to the District's 9-1-1 communications center from December 2012 to July 2013 included the latitude-longitude (or "Phase II" location) needed to find a caller. Of the 385,341 wireless calls made over that period, just 39,805 had that "Phase II" information, while the remaining "Phase I" calls only showed the nearest cell tower, an area too broad to be useful for emergency responders.

The report cites that Verizon and Sprint were able to deliver location accurately on about 24 percent of calls each while GSM providers like T-Mobile and AT&T fared worse with 3.2% and 2.6% accuracy respectively.

This is especially alarming given that many households have given up on a landline and rely solely on their cellphones for voice communications.

The agency says that up to 10,000 additional lives could be saved with better location information, which would help reduce emergency response times. The FCC already is proposing a new rule that would address this issue, which would make it far more accurate than the A-GPS system used by most phones and carriers. A-GPS requires a direct line of sight to satellites to report location, which means it could fail in buildings and dense urban environments.

The FCC's new proposal is being endorsed by many emergency services associations, including those that represent police chiefs, sheriffs, firefighters, EMS, EMTs, and others.

Source: Find Me 911

Chuong Nguyen

Chuong's passion for gadgets began with the humble PDA. Since then, he has covered a range of consumer and enterprise devices, raning from smartphones to tablets, laptops to desktops and everything in between for publications like Pocketnow, Digital Trends, Wareable, Paste Magazine, and TechRadar in the past before joining the awesome team at Windows Central. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, when not working, he likes exploring the diverse and eclectic food scene, taking short jaunts to wine country, soaking in the sun along California's coast, consuming news, and finding new hiking trails. 

  • Whatever happened to just telling them where you are?
  • What happens if you can't talk, for example if you are kidnapped and near the kidnappers, you don't want to talk, just have them find your location.
  • Or if your cat is sleeping on your chest and you don't want to wake him up
  • From personal experience:
    Called 911 with abusive step dad, I just called 911 I left it on for them to hear everything. I had to be sneaky, I couldn't hold phone to talk. Within minutes I was so relieved to hear those hard knocks/banging on the door. I can almost assure you people who are younger like 6 years may go through the same. They may not know the street or full address. I feel more sad than disappointed that maybe others can't be found.
  • I'm sorry about your experience. Hope the call helped. That is certainly a good example.
  • Thats why sprint probably uses gps
  • Umm, lots of people turn of Location Services in the GPS of saving battery power. The question is, are the phones setup to ignore this setting when it is in an emergency call. This may have nothing to do with the carrier or the phone manufacturer.
  • I can't wait for the day they'll have a 911 app where you can place a call directly to 911 with the press of a button, that would automatically connect you to someone who would have access to your GPS and last known locations on your phone and that would have access to your camera and microphone that way if you're in a situation where you can't talk they can see exactly what's going on.
  • Also useful for agencies wishing to track you..and with your suggestions listen in and watch you too. Only difference will be its listening and watching all the time. BUT the app is there for your benefit. You asked for them to have those powers. To protect you when you need them < 1% of your lifetime.
  • Just keep your tinfoil hat on and you'll be ok.
  • I'm going to look into developing that...
    (Dev of Atmosphere weather)
  • My house was robbed 3 weeks ago. My 911 call did not go to the right place. AT&T.
  • Proper set up of 911 location data is the responsibility of the subscriber, not AT&T.  The same is true for VOIP lines.
  • The service provider (aka carrier, AT&T etc) is responsible for sending data about the call to the emergency services agency's call centre, whether it's landline or cellular. In "Phase I" it's typically just the service address (the street address the landline is registered to, or in the case of mobile phones, typically the billing address), though sometimes (depending on equipment) they can send the cell tower nearest to the caller's location. Phase II data must again come from the service provider, but can provide more specific mobile location details (a point, or an area defined by a polygon or arc) if it can be determined (again, the right equipment is required for this). The receiving agency also needs the software in their call taking environment to be able to use the Phase II data and attach it to the call taking screen the calltaker uses; not all agencies (especially smaller agencies, who have very limited budgets) will have updated software to do that. tl;dr: the call information can only be provided by the service provider, as they're the one connecting the call to the greater phone network
  • Did I miss something? The article misses how this new rule FCC is proposing and being endorsed by others would make this more accurate? What is the means to make this more accurate?
  • My phone always tells me I'm 10 miles south. I'm in the DC area.
  • Haven't had a landline in over 15 years. While scary at first...best decision ever.
  • Whoa! A 520 after a long time!
  • Just call them and say there are a bunch of dogs to shoot. They'll be there in 5 minutes
  • At least in Chile works good one time called to the fire department for a emergency but was many years ago and my old phone company Entel PCS just gave the location of the place where was calling and could come to see what happened,a house was set in flames, now don't know if works so good as should.