A Troubling Trend in 911: Lots of Mobile Calls, Not Enough Mobile Data

There’s a dangerous communications trend that’s emerging that could have a serious impact on your personal health. Over the past decade, the penetration of devices (the number of devices, divided by the population) has increased to a level of 102.2% as of December 2012, according to the CTIA.

An intersecting trend to this statistic is one published by the Federal Communications Commission where they estimate that 70% or more of all emergency calls originate from cellular telephone devices.

And to top off the list for a perfect trifecta, it is estimated that 64% of those cellular calls originate from inside a building.

First, let’s do the math and see how big this problem is:

Let’s stick with the number that NENA, the National Emergency Number Association, uses for the total number of 911 calls each year, which is 240 million.

If 70% of those calls originated from cellular devices, that’s roughly 168 million mobile calls being made each year.

64% of that number indicates that 107.52 million phone calls originate from inside of buildings—roughly 204 calls every minute.

Related article: What Really Happens When You Dial 911?

From a regulatory perspective, current regulations require that cellular carriers identify the 911 caller’s telephone number and the cell tower to 911 dispatchers before the end of this year.

Moving forward, additional improvements will be required that mandate the carrier provides latitude and longitude data that will be able to pinpoint a caller to within 300 meters, or 984 feet (still a pretty big number).

Even with this enhanced location accuracy, the other thing that is applicable within a building that has multiple floors, is what’s referred to as the “Z” or altitude.

Even if the “X” and “Y” coordinates (latitude and longitude) were accurate down to the square foot, in a 50-story building there would be 50 identical XY coordinates, and without the Z coordinate, there could be a huge delay in emergency response.

Find Me 911 surveyed 1000 respondents and found that only 187 emergency response centers reported “a great deal” of confidence in the location data they received from wireless carriers.

Find Me 911 Survey

The top three challenges cited were callers who are lost and don’t know their address, callers who accidentally misstate their address and callers who are too young to share their address.

While the FCC is considering new rules to address some of these problems, an immediate improvement can be realized through a public education initiative reminding citizens that the best device for them to use to make a 911 call may be the fixed telephone device on their desk.

As long as the MLTS/PBX is properly provisioned, very accurate information can be sent to public safety, on-site situational awareness can be provided so that local first responders are aware of an emergency situation, and calls can be routed directly to an appropriate 911 call center.

With technology racing forward that allows communications from any device, in any location, on any network, we need to carefully manage the ability for those devices to contact emergency services, with the appropriate information, under all circumstances.

Related article: “Swatting,” the Internet Prank With Deadly Consequences

Whether it’s a small 9-year-old trying to dial 911 from a hotel room and being blocked because they had to dial ‘9’ for an outside line, or a work-at-home user whose child finds them passed out on the floor and uses their VPN telephone to place an emergency call, or an office worker who starts to feel chest pains and grabs the closest device, the one on their desk, to call for help, we need to ensure that emergency services are notified, and help can be dispatched.

I’ll be discussing all of these issues, and more this week at the IAUG Converge 2014 conference being held at the Gaylord Palms resort in Dallas, Texas.

If you’re attending the show, be sure to stop by booth #937, where the Avaya Podcast Network will be broadcasting from the show floor.

Don’t’ forget to join the 911 discussion panel hosted by Mike Haas on Monday afternoon, and be sure to join me Tuesday morning during Kevin Kennedy’s keynote for some very relevant information around public safety.

That’s it for this edition of the E911 talk podcast, thanks for listening; I’ll catch you next time.

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