Enhanced 911 technology for Tulsa cell phone users is several years away

Tuesday, November 18th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

If you call 911 from home, your address pops up on a police dispatcher’s computer screen. But if you call on a cell phone, the dispatcher has no idea where you are, and where to send help.

The technology is available to fix that problem, but it’s not being done. As News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright explains, it all boils down to money.

160,000 people called Tulsa's 911 Center from a cell phone last year. If that caller can't talk or doesn't know where he is, dispatchers are stumped. Dale Hunter, 911 Manager: "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack." Some cities like Tulsa have Enhanced 911, which shows the address of the home or business phone that made the call.

The FCC wants wireless companies to help make the same thing true of cell phones. They'll eventually put GPS chips in each cell phone that will only be activated if you call 911, so they'll know exactly where you are. But that technology and the technology to receive that information won't be cheap. And, that's why it hasn't happened yet, everyone is arguing over who will pay what.

911 Centers must pay for a piece of it, so will cell phone companies, even the local phone company and probably customers, too. "If the economy was better and there was lots of money to throw around, we wouldn't be arguing, but everybody is being careful not to pay for more than that piece they're responsible for."

Tulsa's 911 Center estimates its portion will be more than a million dollars, which it's asked the city for, but hasn't received yet. Tulsa County voters could be asked to pass a 50 cent fee on their monthly cell phone bills to help pay for it. Some people say they pay enough fees already, but emergency workers say saving lives is worth the price. “When you get in a situation and someone is clearly desperate and they're screaming and you can't find them, it would be tragic not to get them help." But that help won't be coming any time soon.

Tulsa's 911 Center now knows your phone number when you call in, so, if you get disconnected, they can call you back. They expect to be able to see your location in about three years. It'll take longer than that for small, rural areas who won't be able to afford the new technology.