Upgrading local 911 centers to track cell phone emergency calls

Thursday, July 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A chance to speed help to the scene of an accident. Every time a call comes in to 911, dispatchers hurry to get the information.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says a crucial detail - where to send help - is increasingly lost if the caller uses a cell phone. Broken Arrow Police Department Captain Brandon Berryhill, "A lot of people don't have a landline phone, they have a cell phone and carry it with them, so a 911 call, even if they're in there own home, it doesn't register as that so it compounds the problem.”

About half of all calls coming in to Broken Arrow's 911 center come from cell phones. Their regular caller ID sometimes catches the number, but that's the most information they can get.

But they've won a grant to pay for software that can track down cell phones. "The problem with wireless phones is that it's not tied to an address, so the first phase of the grant will allow us to call back that mobile phone, it captures the number and we can call it back. The second phase will let us locate that mobile phone, down to about 100 feet."

Even with the improvements, cell phones can still cause problems with the 911 system - if the phone is moving, or if the call cuts out. That's why the police suggest people try to use a landline if they call 911.

The new technology is dependent on cell phone company upgrades - which are not complete - and people changing handsets to get one that can be tracked. Everything has to be changed over by 2005 - the deadline for cell phone companies to provide the location of people calling 911.

The same deadline applies to everyone and Tulsa's 911 center is working on the same upgrade. The telephones that are capable of being tracked are on the market now - but most of the ones in use cannot be tracked, so they'll need to be replaced.