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Progress slow in establishing technology to locate 911 cell calls

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DOVER, Del. (AP) _ The call to the 911 center came in the dead of night.

``Help! Help! I'm in a river!'' the man shouted into his cell phone. ``I'm in a river and my truck is sinking!''

``I'm in a river!'' the man shouted again. Seconds later, he screamed before giving a last frantic cry. ``Help me!''

Three days later, authorities pulled a man's body and a sport utility vehicle from Drawyer Creek near Odessa.

Authorities are wondering whether the victim might have been saved last month had Enhanced 911 technology, which allows emergency workers to locate cell phones, been in place.

Authorities are awaiting DNA test results on the drowning victim, but the cell phone and vehicle are registered to Jonathan Monford, 27, of Middletown. Investigators said Monford made a cell phone call to his wife at 1:40 a.m. on Sept. 23 to say he was leaving a friend's house and would be home soon. Dispatchers received the 911 call about an hour later.

``We didn't even know he was calling from Delaware,'' said New Castle County police spokesman Trinidad Navarro.

In Delaware, as in most other states, compliance with federal rules for establishing E911 service has been slow in coming.

``We've got a lot of work to do,'' said Elayne Starkey, information technology manager for the Delaware Department of Public Safety. ``It's got to be done right. That means sometimes it can't be done as quick as we want.''

In June, lawmakers approved the creation of a panel that was to submit a proposal by Nov. 1 for developing an E911 plan in Delaware, where there are more cell phones than residential telephone lines.

But lawmakers inadvertently inserted language in the bill requiring Senate confirmation of the appointees, meaning the group will not be impaneled and start its work until the legislature reconvenes next year.

Officials in other states have also had problems establishing wireless E911 service.

The Federal Communications Commission first adopted E911 rules five years ago. Under the first phase, a carrier must be able to provide a 911 center with the number from which a wireless call is made and the location of the cell site or base station receiving the call. That technology gives a dispatcher a general idea of where a cell phone user is and gives the dispatcher a number to call back.

Carriers were required to provide Phase I service by April 1998 or within six months of a 911 center's request, whichever is later. But many 911 centers are waiting longer than six months to get the service, said Woody Glover, spokesman for the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Less than half of the country's 6,000 911 centers, and none of the nine in Delaware, have the Phase I technology, according to public safety officials.

Meanwhile, the FCC has moved ahead with Phase II, which requires carriers to modify networks or equip handsets with global positioning technology to ensure that virtually all wireless 911 calls can be pinpointed to within 300 meters or less.

New handsets equipped with the Automatic Location Identification technology were to be available starting no later than Oct. 1. Carriers were to begin providing Phase II service either by that date or within six months of a 911 center's request.

To the disappointment of public safety officials, however, all of the major wireless carriers asked the FCC for waivers, saying they need more time to get the technology in place. Last week, the FCC granted Nextel, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and Cingular more time to implement their Phase II plans. The FCC ordered the carriers to submit quarterly progress reports starting in February.

``Our general feeling is that significant time has existed to be farther down the path then they are,'' said Roger Hixson, technical issues director for the National Emergency Number Association in Columbus, Ohio.

Many wireless providers plan to begin rolling out Phase II technology by the middle of next year, said Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, a trade group based in Washington.

Larson also said most carriers should be able to meet the FCC's mandate to achieve 95 percent penetration of ALI-capable handsets among their subscribers by Dec. 31, 2005.

``I think that, by and large, that target will be hit,'' he said.

Only one carrier, Sprint PCS, met the Oct. 1 deadline for new handsets, introducing the Samsung SPH-N300 last week in a handful of northeastern states. The new phone should be available nationwide this month, said Sprint spokesman Dan Wilinsky.

While public safety officials tend to blame wireless carriers for the delay in Phase II service, the carriers say the technology is complex and expensive, and that they're at the mercy of equipment manufacturers and vendors. They also note that not all emergency dispatch centers and local telephone carriers have technology in place to receive data and incorporate it with maps dispatchers need to direct rescue workers.

``We're looking at an amazingly complex network,'' Larson said.

Officials in Rhode Island, the only state smaller than Delaware, say theirs is the only state fully compliant with the Phase I requirement. It also will be the first to have a complete Phase II system. State officials are working with Sprint to test the new system, which should be in use next month.

Rhode Island, covering about 1,200 square miles and with a population of slightly more than 1 million, has just one 911 center covering the whole state.

``If you can't do it in this state, you can't do it anywhere,'' said Raymond Labelle, executive director of Rhode Island's E911 telephone system.

``The traveling public, when they're in Rhode Island, will have access to a complete array of emergency services that 911 affords,'' Labelle said. ``Once they leave the state, there's no guarantee that they'll have the same protection.''
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