01.28.15

SCHUMER: FIRST RESPONDERS TOO-OFTEN CAN'T LOCATE VICTIMS WHEN 9-1-1 CALLS ARE MADE FROM CELL PHONES; COULD LEAD TO POTENTIALLY DEADLY DELAYS IN EMERGENCY RESPONSE TIME – SCHUMER URGES FCC TO APPROVE & IMPLEMENT STRONG NEW RULES, DURING MEETING TOMORROW, TO STRENGTHEN 9-1-1 CALL ACCURACY FROM CELL PHONES

Approximately 70% of 9-1-1 Calls Are Made From Cell Phones, But Current Technology for Pinpointing Where These Calls Are Coming From Can Identify Incorrect Location; Often 9-1-1 Callers Do Not Know Where They Are or Cannot Speak, Which Is Why Having An Exact Location Is Vital – 9-1-1 Calls from Landlines, However, Can Be Traced To An Exact Room

Fed Comms Commission is Set to Vote on Plan, Devised with Help of Cell Phone Companies & Public Safety Groups, That Will Improve Location Accuracy – Schumer Urges FCC to Approve & Implement Plan To Accurately Pinpoint Location of 9-1-1 Calls; Would Be Helpful During Major Winter Storms

 

Schumer: More Than 4 Million 9-1-1 Calls Are Made By Cell Phone In Upstate NY Each Year, And We Must Be Able To Identify Exactly Where They Are Coming From

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expeditiously approve and implement a plan it is set to vote on tomorrow that would improve location accuracy for wireless 9-1-1 calls. Current technology for pinpointing the exact location of 9-1-1 calls that originate from cell phones pales in comparison to landlines, which can be traced to a specific room or apartment, whereas cell phone calls cannot – even though now more than 70 percent of 9-1-1 calls are made from cell phones.

The lack of accurate data could lead to longer response times that could potentially mean the difference between life and death when a caller is either unable to speak due to the emergency, is located within a large building or in a populated town center, or located in an unfamiliar rural area or one with sporadic service. Schumer said it is particularly important to have accurate location information for 9-1-1 callers during winter storms. Schumer noted there are more than 4 million emergency calls that originate from cell phones each year in Upstate New York. Schumer explained that the FCC is set to vote tomorrow on a plan to update technology to allow 9-1-1 dispatchers to better locate where cell phone calls are coming from. Schumer commended the FCC on its work in tackling this issue and encouraged the agency to finalize its rulemaking process and swiftly begin implementation of the new rules.    

“Our 9-1-1 emergency response is the cornerstone of our public safety system, and EMTs, firefighters and police officers save countless lives by answering the call every day, which is why we must make sure that tracking this calls is pin-point accurate, something that is not the case right now. But increased cell phone usage has exposed a potentially fatal flaw in this system—the fact that our ability to track 9-1-1 callers and victims on their wireless devices is severely lacking, impeding help from being dispatched in the most expedient way possible. When more than 70 percent of wireless calls to 9-1-1 are originating from cell phones, it is inconceivable that GPS flaws could mean the difference between life and death,” said Schumer. “I am heartened to see the FCC has been collaborating with wireless companies and public safety groups to tackle this important issue. But we need to make sure these new rules get out the door ASAP. When time is of the essence, we need to be able to identify exactly where these calls are coming from so help can be on the way before it is too late.”

The FCC is set to vote tomorrow on a plan to pursue technology updates that would allow 9-1-1 dispatchers to better locate where emergency cell phone calls are originating. Schumer is calling on the FCC to work with cell phone companies and safety advocates to implement the strongest tracking rules possible, as soon as possible, for providing dispatchers with improved location accuracy. In the FCC plan, Schumer there should be four major call-tracking criteria that are addressed when developing the most stringent plan to improve wireless 9-1-1 call pinpointing. First, Schumer said, the new FCC rules should stipulate a 9-1-1 call from a cell phone result in a dispatchable location. Schumer said that is the only way to ensure that emergency service providers can reliably get to callers in need. Second, any solution must be verifiable. Schumer said this means industry cannot simply trust that any particular technological solution will work. Third, Schumer said the rules must be flexible to accommodate rapidly evolving technology. Finally, the rules need to be implemented as fast as is reasonably possible, although the speediness of implementation must not be prioritized over accuracy and safety.

Schumer said that it is critical for police dispatchers to have precise information during emergency situations in order to quickly and accurate identify the location of a 9-1-1 caller in need of help or assistance. According to the FCC, more than 70 percent of these 9-1-1 calls are now being made from cell phones. However, despite the increase in 9-1-1 calls coming from wireless devices over the past decade, dispatching centers around the state and country are finding it difficult to locate many victims due to gaps in cell phone technology and location pinpointing systems. Schumer said this information void is problematic and potentially deadly, as it could mean the difference between life and death for a 9-1-1 caller.

 

Schumer said improving wireless 9-1-1 call location accuracy could save lives. Schumer explained that, when first responders cannot precisely locate victims by using the GPS tracking systems on their wireless devices, potentially deadly delays in emergency response time can arise. The fact that many wireless calls are difficult to trace is very problematic when a caller is either unable to speak due to the emergency, is located within a large building or in a populated town center, or located in an unfamiliar rural area or one with sporadic service. Schumer noted that while tracing a caller could be successful on an open highway, as it is much easier if the caller is outdoors, this is not the case if the caller is indoors in a multi-floor apartment building or if the cell phone does not have a clear signal. Schumer said this increased cell phone use has exposed a clear, and potentially fatal flaw, in the system, which is why he is urging the FCC swiftly approve and implement its new rules surrounding location accuracy for wireless 9-1-1 calls as soon as possible.

 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FCC appears below:

 

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

 

I applaud the Commission for taking on the challenge of updating its rules for emergency 9-1-1 calls to ensure that first responders are able to find cell phone callers.  I write to encourage you to finalize your rulemaking process and swiftly begin implementation of new rules.  

 

Today, as many as 70% of calls made to 9-1-1 may be made from cell phones; it is critical for public safety that dispatchers be able to find those cell phone callers as reliably as they can find callers who use land lines.   Unfortunately, the rules in place today are simply not adequate to ensure that cell phone callers can be found, especially when calls are placed from indoors. 

 

The consequences of inadequate location accuracy services are literally deadly.   A real life, heartbreaking example from my home state of New York illustrates the severity of this problem.  In June 2013, an elderly New York woman called 9-1-1 while having a stroke, but FDNY and EMT dispatchers were sent to the wrong address based on a cell tower reading. Because she endured a stroke, her speech was slurred and she was unable to provide dispatchers with the correct location.  She was on the phone for nearly 8 hours before she was located.  Unfortunately she died the next day. 

 

I was heartened to see that the FCC has decided to tackle this issue, and even more encouraged that the wireless industry and public safety groups heeded your call to collaborate and identify a workable framework for improved location accuracy.  

 

I feel very strongly that the final rules you adopt should meet the principles identified by Commissioner Rosenworcel last year: first and foremost, a 9-1-1 call from a cell phone should result in a dispatchable location; that is the only way to ensure that emergency service providers can reliably get to callers in need.  Second, any solution must be verifiable; we cannot simply trust that any particular technological solution will work.  Third, the rules must be flexible to accommodate rapidly evolving technology.  And finally, the rules need to be implemented as fast as is reasonably possible, although the speediness of implementation must not be prioritized over accuracy and safety.

 

I also encourage the FCC to continue working with public safety and industry stakeholders to ensure that their voices are heard.  The collective expertise from the wireless and emergency services sectors is invaluable in putting together an effective solution for today and for the future.

 

In conclusion, I urge you to take swift action on this issue.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

 

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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