Examining Cell Phone Tracking and the Accuracy of Emergency Dispatching

Are cellular phones as accurate as they need to be? Many police and emergency dispatchers don’t think so. In fact, many 911 dispatchers are experiencing trouble helping callers, as their cell phones simply do not provide the dispatcher with their accurate location.

Unlike landlines, which allow 911 dispatchers to accurately pinpoint the caller’s location, cellphones provide them with a rough estimate, which may result in the delay of emergency help.

More Accuracy, Please

Although some advocacy groups fight for more privacy, emergency dispatchers are fighting for more accuracy. Specifically, they are asking cell phone carriers to provide them with more accurate tracking data. Currently, dispatchers complain that the accuracy they are receiving may be as much as 200 yards away from the exact location of the caller.

Although cell phones have become a saving grace for many individuals in emergency situations, as they allow them to immediately make a call for help, law enforcement officers and emergency responders see the use of cell phones as a double-edged sword. Many times, if a caller dials 911 but can’t speak, determining their exact location through cell phone tracking data is a challenge; this is made all the harder if the call is placed indoors.

The Increased Use of Cell Phones a Concern for Emergency Dispatchers

The problem inaccurate cell phone tracking is becoming more of an issue every day, as it is estimated that nearly 40 percent of all households have eliminated their landlines all together in favor of their cell phones. Further, statistics from California found that in the last 18 months, 75 percent of all 911 calls in the state were made from cell phones.

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The tracking technology provided by wireless carriers has recently changed, making it even more difficult to locate callers. Older technology was less accurate, but 911 dispatchers were able to receive location data almost immediately. Now, 911 dispatchers receive cell phone data in two stages: first by trying to locate the caller using the nearest cell phone tower; and the second through GPS technology which, although much more accurate, takes up to 30 seconds before it provides the information to the dispatcher.