Problem Solvers Update: Increasing 911 location failure rate from wireless providers

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INDIANA – It’s a life or death problem.

Lately, it’s gotten worse.

That was the message about 911 location accuracy delivered to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai during his visit to the Hamilton County 911 Center Tuesday.

In February, CBS4 uncovered how wireless carriers struggle to accurately pinpoint 911 callers. They’re aiming to meet FCC standards for improvements, but results vary widely from location to location.

In August, CBS4 took a look at a third-party company, RapidSOS, working with the FCC and industry leaders to implement their own location tracking software in 911 centers across America.

According to Barry Ritter, the former state 911 board director and Hamilton County 911 director Mike Snowden, some improvement is needed as they’ve seen “a degradation in Phase 2 accuracy”.

In layman’s terms, that means dispatchers are sometimes “bidding” or requesting data from wireless providers over and over, only to still pinpoint callers several miles away from where they actually are.

“The idea that that location accuracy is degrading over time, we find to be very problematic and we need that to be looked at seriously by the industry that partners on that,” said Snowden.

Representative Susan Brooks, who visited the center with Chairman Pai, echoed those concerns.

“This is a disturbing trend, if location information is not coming in as accurately to those dispatchers,” said Brooks. “That’s probably the number one fact that the 911 dispatchers need from the person calling in.”

Chairman Pai says he’s heard the same complaint numerous times now during his “911 tour” of sorts across America.

"That this is something that’s front of mind for a lot of public safety officials," said Pai. "That means we as the FCC need to keep on top of it as well."

That’s especially concerning to Snowden and other 911 center directors because the FCC is supposed to be the one enforcing the standards requiring wireless providers to improve their accuracy. Pai says they’ll be reassessing those standards and accountability measures.

“We’ve set certain standards over the years and we’re going to make sure those standards are up to date and give responders the information they need,” said Pai.

Snowden hopes that does happen… and soon.

CBS4 also reached out to CTIA, the wireless association industry group, for answers.

We have not received a response to questions about what if, anything, is being done to reverse this apparent backslide and keep improving location accuracy.

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