June 25, 2014

CBS Minnesota quotes Jamie Barnett on crisis of faulty location tracking of 911 cell phone calls

2 min

CBS Channel 4 Minnesota interviewed Venable partner and retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett in a June 23, 2014 video broadcast on the pervasive problem of 911 dispatchers’ inability to pin the location of 911 calls made from cell phones. In a recent example, a Minnesota woman dialed 911 while someone tried to break into her apartment. An emergency call center in New York – 1,200 miles away – picked up her call, and eventually relayed the information to Minneapolis. Police arrived 30 minutes later.

“This is a public safety crisis, really,” said Admiral Barnett, who heads the Find Me 911 Coalition. The group represents emergency response professionals concerned about failures in the wireless 911 system.

The technology is there to make 911 more efficient, Admiral Barnett explained, it’s just not being used. Right now, 70 percent of 911 calls come from cell phones. If you make a call from outside, your cell’s GPS chip connects with satellites or cell towers so an operator can see your location. Make that call from inside, like the majority of callers do, and the signal doesn’t have a clear path, so it’s not unheard of for a cell phone to skip over cell towers to one in a completely different state.

Admiral Barnett said that is why operators now ask where you are first. But too many callers don’t know or can’t speak during an emergency. Making changes could save 10,000 lives a year, he said.