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The FCC Takes on Ineffective E911 Location Tracking
I consider myself to be a bit of an expert when it comes to all things Law & Order: SVU. I have seen every episode, and can tell you which season a syndicated episode is from simply by looking at Mariska Hargitay’s haircut. The shows are always eventful and realistic, and leave the viewer guessing until the end. Amidst the countless realistic, disturbing plotlines, though, is an even more terrifying fact: many E911 calls on the show turn out to be ineffective thanks to imperfect location tracking services.
I cannot tell you how many times on the show a victim makes a 911 call from her cellphone, only to be attacked or killed anyway because the police couldn’t find exactly where she was. Sure, this may just be TV, but the problem demonstrated here is unfortunately very real. A recent VoIP Innovations (News - Alert) blog, points out the reason for this miscommunication saying, “…while it’s true that many areas have implemented E911, the service primarily only allows public service access points (PSAPs) to determine the general location of a wireless caller’s origination. As opposed to a call made from a wireline phone, the exact location cannot always be pinpointed.”
As the post goes on to explain, wireline 911 calls are routed by the PSTN to a facility that uses dedicated technology to find the origin of the call. The call is then delivered to the correct PSAP with location data. So, anyone using a wireline phone can be easily found in case of emergency. Unfortunately for wireless phone users, that exact location is much harder to pinpoint, and emergency help often only receives the general area someone is calling from.
This is something I’ve always wondered about—what happens if there’s a break-in or you’re being followed on the street? You can’t exactly find a wireline phone in those situations and discreetly call the police, not without giving yourself away, at least. E911 is supposed to help in these situations, but the system is clearly far from perfect.
That’s why it’s so important for advancements to be made in this area. Boccamazzo states that over 150,000 emergency wireless calls are made in the U.S. every single day, and the FCC (News - Alert) is finally making some changes to accommodate this large volume. The FCC has mandated the delivery of location data for 80 percent of cell phone calls by 2021; one way the FCC hopes to achieve this is by requiring carriers to place GPS receivers in phones to deliver more specific location information.
Just think of how much more effective emergency help will be once these E911 services are improved. Wireless vs. Wireline shouldn’t make a difference in how quickly emergency personnel are able to get to a caller. Enhanced location tracking could result in thousands of saved lives every day. These improvements will be great for all of us but, unfortunately for the Law & Order: SVU show writers, they’ll have to come up with a new catalyst to begin their episodes with.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi