Room for improvement in locating people calling 911 using a cellphone

Posted at 11:25 PM, Nov 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-25 14:30:36-05

When seconds count, the type of phone you use to call 911 could be what determines how quickly you get the help you need.

WPTV took a look at what is being done to better track your location when you call 911 from a cellphone instead of a landline.

We learned there is room for improvement nationally, and here at home.

Police know landlines are phasing out, with many more people using a cellphone to contact first responders.

“The accuracy of responding to calls, while it’s getting better, it’s still not completely to where it should be,” said Stuart Police Chief David Dyess.

Dyess explained dispatchers can quickly and more accurately determine the location of a landline phone.

This goes for all dispatch centers.

For cellphones, it is a more involved process.

Dispatchers first get the location of the cellphone tower that the call is being sent through.

Then, they receive a GPS signal from the phone. Even then, it is not always accurate.

“Usually it’s within a block or so,” Dyess said.

WPTV called 911 from the area of 5th Street and Dixie Highway in downtown Stuart to see how well dispatchers could track where we were located.

Dispatchers quickly zeroed in on the area, believing we were near the area of Dixie Highway and Florida Street.

A quick drive to that intersection showed the dispatchers were off by .4 miles.

“It’s not as accurate as law enforcement or an ambulance would like for responses,” Dyess said.

Telecommunication company Ooma reports that the accuracy of locating 911 callers based on cellphone GPS ranges from as low at 10 percent to upwards of 95 percent nationally.

The state of Florida, the FCC and cellphone carriers are working to improve this.

Dyess expects 80 percent compliance for feeding accurate GPS locations in Florida by 2021 from cellphone carriers.

“Hopefully by the time we get to that, the closer we get to that, the more and more those GPS location accuracy levels will rise.”