9 of 10 emergency wireless calls lack accurate data location 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

There are 17 comments

Moo Cow says:

This is stunning, especially since you never know when the emergency will be, what type it will be, or how the phone call will go down. I hope they indeed come up with a new standard that works much better. Seriously, if it's that bad in DC, doesn't it make you scared about wherever you are?

chowdog13 says:

I'll take my chances, you can keep my land line.

leif1981 says:

I think it would be about time to expand the emergency system and adapt new technologies worldwide.

To some degree I like the emergency feature in Samsung phones where you hold both volume keys for 3 seconds and it will send a message, location information, audio recording and photos of both cameras to pre-defined contacts. The bad thing is that it only supports mms.

If such a feature would be a worldwide standard that every manufacturer has to build in and work always, doesn't matter if the phone has currently a mms/data plan or not, it would be pretty nice. Combine that with a wearable or bluetooth emergency button old people could wear on a necklace and it could be pretty nice.

grydlok says:

So today in D. C. you can catch a cab from Uber while it's fleeing from the cops but emergency services won't be able to find you once you end up around Trinidad?

"Nothing I shoot ever gets back up again."

Surely proximity/location data can be collected from ANY nearby tower, not just your network. In the uk we can make emergency calls on any network not just our own so this must be possible.

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Hiberny says:

Half of carriers aren't GSM, so it's more complicated than the UK. But, yes that should be possible.

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deparson says:

Yes, in the US a phone that is dialing 9-1-1 will search for any available signal from any carrier that is compatible with that phone's hardware. 99.9% of the time that will be the carrier the phone is provisioned for but in some cases it will 'roam' to another carrier if needed.

Of course, a CDMA phone is not going to roam to a GSM carrier but that is a technical vs. structural limitation.

goldfndr says:

Really? Only 1 out of 1000 for roaming? Citation please.

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deparson says:

Yes, 99.9% of the time a phone completes a call it completes it on the carrier that it is provisioned for in the USA. The real % is likely much higher but I down rated it to make the analysis easier. Also, the data set is older so that should also drive up the % even higher as networks are for more built out today.


blackace878 says:

That's great knowing I live few hours away from dc

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... a lack of direction in Washington? tell us something we don't know.

So ER services can't find me but anyone in my Life 360 circle can.

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Thunder350 says:

They should just ask the NSA for the location data...

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travaz says:

Guess we are going to have to pay to upgrade all those free Obama phones they handed out!

If those emergency calls are being made from underground in the Metro, location accuracy is horrendous. When I locate myself when underground in the Dupont Circle station, for example, I'm reported as being somewhere just north of Capitol Hill. Other times it says I'm in Columbia Heights.

I also question whether or not the DC 911 people have equipment that supports receiving accurate coordinates. If Google Maps can locate me and get me unlost in a few seconds, surely something is working correctly in my phone.

goldfndr says:

I'm surprised they're not just doing an RFC for hardware that could improve location. Get three cheap devices for easy triangulation. For that matter, they could offer to have a protocol to register your WiFi access points with location and MAC via the FCC app or a 9-1-1 app; I doubt most city slickers would care about the loss of privacy.

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A2theC says:

9 out of 10 emergency wireless calls are pocket dialed from lock screen.