Wireless Devices & 911

Wireless Devices and 911

 When Cell phones and VOIP (Voice of Internet Protocol) devices are used for calling 911, the process is more complex for 911 Telecommunicators to locate and gain the proper information than the standard landline technology. 
The location is very important when trying to find an emergency and technology across the nation struggles when 911 is dialed using wireless devices.  Most people today have cell phones but every device is different in how it works with making a 911 call. If a caller cannot speak, this can really affect the process in sending appropriate assistance.   
The tracking technology used by wireless carriers is imperfect.  Cellphone location comes in two stages when 911 is dialed, initially providing the location of the cell tower available for that carrier. This means the call can travel from various cell towers which may not even be in the county the call is being placed.  
The second stage comes from the GPS technology, which is more accurate outdoors so if a caller is indoors the location can be off by miles.  Telecommunicators have a process to rebid the call to try and gain updated information on their Computer aided system but the carriers play a major part in how this data is supplied. 
Telecommunicators look at the following key points on wireless devices:
  • Who is the carrier?
  • Does it have GPS capability or is it a Trac phone or throw away phone?
  • Is there a major event where cell towers may be busy in the area?  If this is the case your call can travel to a 911 center in another town or city. 
  • Is the caller indoors our outside? Building structure can cause interference. 
Despite existing FCC regulations requiring accurate location data to be provided to 911 Telecommunicators for 911 wireless calls, the majority of calls today may not contain that critical information.  911 professionals are continuously working to enforce and change existing rules to better serve the community.   
For more information or questions on wireless devices contact 217-342-8474.