Prince’s death highlights 911 location issues

June 9, 2016  - By

By Tracy Cozzens
Managing Editor

Prince-signPrince’s death on April 21 highlights a fatal flaw in the United States’ antiquated 911 emergency system. When you call from cell phone, 911 doesn’t automatically know where you are. 911 often can’t determine the location of an emergency, even when the call for help comes from a GPS-equipped smartphone. Often the 911 operator can only zero in the nearest cell tower, which can be several miles away or in the next county.

In the transcript of the 911 call from Prince’s house comes this exchange:

911 operator: OK, what’s the address?

Caller: We’re at Prince’s house.

911 operator: OK, does anybody know the address? OK, your cell phone’s not going to tell me where you’re at, so I need you to find me an address … OK, have you found an address yet?

Caller: Yeah, um, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. (The caller is heard asking others if they know the address.)

911 operator: Is there any mail around that you could look at?

While a quicker response may not have saved Prince’s life, some experts estimate that cutting 911 response by one minute could save one person every hour every day nationwide.

The FCC and the four largest cellphone carriers say they’re doing their best to address the problem. One possible solution is LaaSer, a technology suite that runs in the cloud. LaaSer updates your precise location at the exact same time that the call to 911 is being made, so that the answering operator is immediately presented with your information.

With Laaser, any mobile device delivers accurate location information about the caller to 911 operators immediately. It does this using existing infrastructure, so carriers, handset manufacturers and 911 call centers wouldn’t have to change their systems to receive the benefits.

Unlike current 911 mobile phone technology, LaaSer takes advantage of all of the location information already available in smartphones, including GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, near-field communications (NFC)/RFID, compass, accelerometer, barometer and more.

Our lives may depend on it.

This article is tagged with , , , , , , , , and posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.