FCC: 911 Calls in D.C. Lack Accurate Caller Location Information

New data obtained from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that nine out of ten wireless 9-1-1 calls made in D.C. in the first half of 2013 were delivered without the accurate location information needed to find callers who are lost, confused, unconscious or otherwise unable to share their location.  
 
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.

"These results reveal an alarming public safety crisis,” said Jamie Barnett, former Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and Director of the Find Me 911 Coalition. “When nine in ten emergency callers in our nation’s capital cannot be located on wireless phones, we know that the requirements for location accuracy must be updated immediately.  Thankfully, the FCC has proposed a strong new rule to help find wireless callers in need, both indoors and outdoors, and this should eliminate any doubt about the importance of rapid adoption of that rule.”


The location technology currently used by most wireless carriers (called A-GPS) depends on a direct line of sight to satellites, so it often fails in indoor locations or dense urban areas like the District.  The FCC recently proposed a new rule (Proceeding 07-114) to address this issue by requiring wireless carriers to provide accurate location data for indoor calls within two years.  According to the FCC, the proposed rule could save an estimated 10,000 lives a year through faster response times.

“The nation’s capital faces unique security issues, and it’s critical that 9-1-1 callers in DC be quickly located in an emergency,” continued Barnett.  “Unfortunately, the safety of our residents and visitors is being put at risk on an ongoing basis when 9-1-1 cannot identify their locations to send help.  This failure to provide location information is a serious danger anywhere, but especially with the added security threats faced by those who visit, live, or work in the nation’s capital.”

Other data provided by the FCC offered a breakdown by carrier of wireless 9-1-1 calls in DC for a different period of time, from July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013.  That data showed significant variation for accurate “Phase II” information among carriers:

Carrier
Total Calls
(7/1/13 -9/30/13)
Phase II Calls
(7/1/13 -9/30/13)
Percent of Calls with Accurate Location Info
AT&T
31,135
803
2.6%
Leap
6,151
983
16.0%
Sprint
19,694
4,595
23.3%
T-Mobile
22,883
736
3.2%
Verizon
13,899
3,414
24.6%

Many of the nation’s leading public safety and public health organizations have submitted comments in support of the proposed FCC rule, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of EMS Physicians, National Association of EMTs, National EMS Management Association, American College of Emergency Physicians, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, and National Public Safety Telecommunications Council.

In addition, a survey released in April of 1,014 managers and employees from the call centers that handle 9-1-1 calls found that 99 percent supported the FCC’s proposed requirements for indoor location accuracy within two years, and another 99 percent said the adoption of that rule was “critically” or "very" important for public safety in their communities.

"The FCC has put forward an outstanding proposed rule that will save more than 10,000 American lives each year," concluded Barnett. "Public safety leaders should continue to stand firm with their members in support of that rule and not be swayed by carrier rhetoric and empty promises of some future solution."

The Find Me 911 Coalition submitted its FOIA request to the FCC on May 15, 2014.  The materials obtained from the FCC through the FOIA request can be found at http://findme911.org/news/find-me-911-receives-washington-d-c-wireless-9-1-1-data-through-foia/.


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