911 centers struggle to find callers on mobile phones, and the results can be deadly


Commercial apps, such as Facebook and Uber, it can pinpoint your exact location via your smartphone with the built-in GPS. But that is not necessarily the case when you call 911.

That is because most 911 centers to determine a mobile caller’s location based on technology that was adopted two decades ago, mobile phones are equipped with GPS. So, instead of obtaining information about the location directly from the phone, the 911 center estimates the caller’s location based on which cell tower is in use.


The problem is, the tower your phone pings can be miles away, or even in a different jurisdiction.

That was the case back in 2014, when the newspaper deliverywoman Shanell Anderson 911 after accidentally driving her SUV into a pond.


The sinking vehicle is located in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. But the call is routed to a 911 center in the City of Alpharetta, two provinces away. By the time rescuers were able to find Anderson of the location, the 31-year-old had already suffered critical injuries and died in hospital a few days later.

Alpharetta 911 receives approximately 44,000 emergency calls per year. Every day, the centre has to transfer an estimated 10 to 12 calls that are misrouted from different jurisdictions.

“The amount of time that is spent in which 911 center to go to the right location is time wasted on the emergency responders on the scene,” said Carl Hall, Alpharetta Public Safety administrator.

Alpharetta and other towns have assisted in the tech startup LaaSer-test technology to provide 911 centers with accurate information about the location of mobile callers. It involves no equipment or software upgrades in the 911 centers, but also helps mobile phones to communicate with their GPS location during an emergency.

“Our approach is that each piece of the puzzle to do what it’s good at,” said LaaSer CEO Fred White. “The tower is great at communicating voice and data — not so good in figuring out where your phone is. The phone is very good in telling where it is. So, let the phone do its work, it tells our system where it is. And our system uses the cellular network for the forwarding of the voice and data that are needed to complete the call.”

During a controlled test, a Fox News reporter has dialed 911 from his cell phone. Although he placed the call while standing next to a 911 operator in Alpharetta center, her computer screen showed the address of a cell tower more than a mile away.

As CEO, White called from the same location with the help of the LaaSer-911-equipped mobile telephone, the operator of the computer immediately showed the correct address of the 911 center.

Company officials say that they are working with a major Android manufacturer to make use of this technology is a standard feature on their new phones.

Currently, 70 to 80 percent of the emergency calls are made on mobile phones. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that a one minute improvement in 911 response times for mobile callers would save more than 10,000 lives per year.

The FCC has a mandate that by 2021, 911 centers are able to provide accurate locations of 80 percent of the wireless calls. But that still means one in five mobile users will fall through the cracks in case of an emergency.

Fox News’ David Lewkowict contributed to this report.

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular