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Venable partner and retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett was interviewed by The Oregonian and Government Technology on December 10, 2013 about the need to improve location tracking of 911 calls made from mobile devices. Admiral Barnett serves as director of the Find Me 911 Coalition which is pushing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider new requirements for phone companies to help 911 operators better locate people calling with mobile devices.

Speaking to The Oregonian, he said “If you use a cell phone, you probably think that a 911 operator can find you if you call in an emergency. Unfortunately, that assumption could be fatally flawed.” For example, half of the 911 calls from cellphones in North Carolina over the past year did not include accurate location data to find a caller, he told Government Technology. Current regulations don’t account for smartphones overtaking landlines as the primary method of calling 911, said Barnett. When someone dials 911 from a landline, an operator has a clear fix on the person’s location because the phone is tied to a physical address. But when a person calls 911 from a smartphone, wireless companies rely heavily on GPS to determine the caller’s location. GPS can work well, he said, when a satellite has an unobstructed view of an outdoor target. But calls placed from inside structures and urban areas can be a problem. Of the 240 million 911 calls per year, 70 percent – and rising – are coming from wireless devices and 56 percent of those are from indoors, Barnett explained.

Wireless companies should be using a hybrid of GPS and other tracking technologies such as round-trip time (RTT) or Advanced Forward Link Trilateration (AFLT) to improve location accuracy, Barnett said.

“What we [Find Me 911] say is that the FCC should adopt indoor location requirements that will in essence require either better technology or a combination of technologies that will work indoors, but also solve the outdoor problem, rather than just going to the kind of single technology that the wireless carriers have done over the past four or five years,” he concluded.