California Reports Sharp Decline in Wireless 9-1-1 Call Accuracy (8/13/13)
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 | Comments

CALNENA, the California chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), filed data with the FCC showing that more than half of all California wireless 9-1-1 calls in five geographic areas were delivered to public-safety answering points (PSAPs) without location information that is needed to find callers who don’t know or can’t communicate their locations.

Despite an FCC requirement for accurate location information to be provided by wireless carriers for all emergency calls, the data showed a dramatic decline in wireless 9-1-1 location information across all five areas since 2008, with the worst declines in urban areas such as San Francisco, potentially because of calls originating indoors and from environments between tall buildings where GPS functionality may be limited.

"We are witnessing a significant decline in the delivery of location information with wireless 9-1-1 calls across the state of California," said Danita Crombach, president of CALNENA and communications manager for the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. "When 9-1-1 dispatchers can't find callers in crisis, lives are at risk. 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."

Statewide data from the California State 9-1-1 Office found that less than 45 percent of the nearly 1.59 million wireless 9-1-1 calls received statewide in March 2013 were delivered with Phase II data for the caller's location, despite FCC regulations requiring accurate location data. The remaining Phase I calls were delivered with the location data limited to the cell tower from which the call originated, information of marginal utility to emergency responders given the large area covered by each tower.

The data for San Francisco, Pasadena, Bakersfield, San Jose and Ventura County showed major declines in wireless 9-1-1 Phase II location delivery across the state.

While all five areas faced declines, the drop was more pronounced in urban areas, where GPS-based technologies may be affected by the number of calls from indoors and between buildings. In San Francisco, for example, the delivery of Phase II location data with wireless 9-1-1 calls declined from a high of 43 percent in July 2008 to just 20 percent in December 2012.

The data also showed notable differences in wireless 9-1-1 location information being delivered by wireless carrier, with some carriers performing better than others.

"This drives home the urgency of this issue, as the location information for a growing majority of 9-1-1 callers using wireless devices is unavailable to dispatchers and emergency responders," said Crombach. "Without timely location data, our 9-1-1 professionals are challenged to efficiently perform their jobs, and first responders are losing precious time trying to find victims when that information should be delivered to them in seconds. This issue needs to be fixed without delay."

The full letter sent by Crombach to the FCC is available here.

In March, the FCC released a report on a trial conducted in the San Francisco area to test the indoor location accuracy of location systems across urban, suburban and rural areas.

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