Have you ever been frustrated with using your GPS system on your phone or in your car and found that the accuracy was often a block or more off? Or worse, in rural areas the streets may not even be shown at all. It might surprise you to learn that the 911 tracking system used by first responders to find people who are in the midst of a dire emergency may be even more inaccurate. Attempts to improve the 911 system to ensure that people needing emergency attention from police, fire or other first responders can be located quickly are being delayed rather than expedited!
Public safety officials say this 911 location problem is widespread, particularly in densely populated urban areas and sparsely populated rural communities. Perhaps the answer lies in quickly getting to the suburbs when an emergency strikes...IF you want 911 to find you!
If you're outdoors, and your phone's GPS chip can connect with satellites above or the phone hits a series of cell towers on the ground, the 911 operator can determine your latitude and longitude (within 50 meters or so) most of the time.
But make that emergency call from inside a building, where it's hard for your phone to "see" the satellites and cell signals tend to bounce around a lot, then your location information could be off by 100 meters or more. That 100 meter difference can be enough to direct responders to the wrong building, and certainly to the wrong floor. In rural areas with spotty cell service the location process may be even more difficult.
That's why the first piece of information 911 operators request from a cellphone caller is their location. But what happens if the caller doesn’t know, or can’t communicate, their location? What happens if the call gets dropped? When seconds count, the minutes or hours of delay may be the difference between life and death.
Calling from a landline alerts the 911 operators to a specific location, but cell phones are a different story…and the problem is only going to get worse. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that more than 70 percent of all calls to 911 centers now come from wireless phones — that's more than 400,000 calls a day. The majority of these calls (64 percent) are made indoors. And these numbers are sure to go up as people continue to pull the plug on their land-line phone service at home.