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FCC Acknowledges 911 Call Routing is Broken
The FCC recently released a Notice Of Inquiry into 911 routing problems because 911’s outdated technology often sends 911 calls to the wrong dispatch center. When that happens, the incorrect dispatch center has to talk to the caller, determine where the call belongs and then transfer that caller to the correct 911 dispatch center. That takes several minutes — often resulting in loss of life or property.
The Inquiry notes the following key problems:
- Each time a wireless 911 call is “misrouted”and transferred in this manner, the call transfer process consumes time and resources in both the PSAP that initially receives the call and the PSAP to which the call is transferred, and the process ultimately delays dispatch and the ability of first responders to render aid. We have reason to believe that 911 misroutes are not occasional or isolated and in fact occur frequently, on occasion with deadly consequences. The importance of addressing this issue is escalating as the public is increasingly dependent on wireless networks and devices for access to 911.
- 911 calls that are received by one PSAP and then transferred to another are commonly referred to as “misrouted” calls or “misroutes.” However, it is important to note that the “misroutes” that are the subject of this inquiry mostly result from current 911 call routing mechanisms that rely on cell tower location working as designed, not from technical failure of those mechanisms.
The paper goes on to give some shocking examples,
- “For example, a study in Snohomish County, Washington found that in 2014, there were approximately 94,600 transferred 911 calls between PSAPs, each adding an average of 40 seconds to the call time, for a total of 1,051 hours of call delays. See. Robert Thurston, GIS Technician, Snohomish County, Determining Routing of Wireless Sectors in a Multi PSAP 9-1-1 System (2018),
- For example, according to the California Office of Emergency Services, a total of 3,758,748 calls to 911 were transferred from one PSAP to another in California in 2017 (out of a total 911 call volume of 28,129,927 calls). See California Office of Emergency Services, State of California Official E9-1-1 Call Statistics (2018)
- It has also been reported that an estimated 5000 mobile calls per year are misrouted in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State, requiring dispatchers to “reroute them by landline to the proper dispatch center, leading to dropped calls and misinformation.” Wendy Culverwell, Pasco Franklin County Ask to Join 911 Dispatch, Tri-city Herald (Feb. 24, 2016) . See also Summit County, Utah Sheriff’s Office, Summit County / Park City Dispatch Center Consolidation (Aug. 24, 2017), (over 1,100 of Park City’s total of approximately 20,000 911 calls were transferred from another jurisdiction).
- For example, in December 2014, dispatchers were unable to locate Shanell Anderson, who drowned after accidentally driving off the road and into a pond in Cherokee County, Georgia. She was able to call 911, but the call was picked up by a cell tower in an adjoining county and routed to that county’s PSAP, where critical minutes were lost while dispatchers sought to determine the county in which she was located. Brendan Keefe and Phillip Kish, Lost on the Line: Why 911 is Broken, USA Today, (Jan. 2015).
- In another case in 2008, Olidia Kerr Day made a wireless 911 call before she was fatally shot in a murder-suicide in front of the Plantation, Florida police department. Although she placed the call in Plantation, it was routed to the 911 center in Sunrise, Florida, and had to be transferred to Plantation. Sofia Santana, Cell Phone 911 Calls are Often Routed to the Wrong Call Centers, The Sun Sentinel (June 21, 2008).
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