If you use your cell phone to call 911, you’d certainly hope emergency responders could use your signal determine your location in the event that you weren’t able to tell them yourself. But that may not always be the case.
A recent study by the California Chapter of the National Emergency Association (CALNENA) found that many cellphone networks across the state are failing to relay the location of 911 callers, potentially making it more difficult for dispatchers to send help.
"When 9-1-1 dispatchers can't find callers in crisis, lives are at risk,” said Danita Crombach, President of CALNENA and Communications Manager for the Ventura County Sheriff's Office in a written statement.
CALNENA tracked more than 3 million wireless calls made to 911 dispatchers in Bakersfield, Pasadena, San Francisco, San Jose and Ventura County from 2008 to 2012. The group discovered that more than half of those calls were delivered without location information. The most significant drops were in urban areas, and that’s likely because more 911 calls are made from inside buildings with poor reception.
Although the cause remains unclear, the findings show some service providers have preformed worse than others. T-Mobile and AT&T have seen the most severe declines in percentage of 911 calls with location data—while Verizon and Sprint appear to be preforming slightly better.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires all cellphone companies to include location data for emergency calls, and that’s prompted CALNENA to write an open letter to the government agency.
“The FCC should take immediate action on existing rule compliance and require the wireless carriers to provide location data with all 9-1-1 calls in all environments, indoors and outside, urban and rural,” Crombach stated.