911 Services Can't Handle Advanced Wireless Devices, Services

The 911 Industry Alliance says there is a problem because most call centers are analog and digital data isn't delivered.
As more advanced wireless devices are put into use, the nation's 40-year-old 911 emergency system is becoming increasingly antiquated and unable to function properly for users of the new devices, according to the 911 Industry Alliance.

Jeff Robertson, executive director of the industry group, said in an interview Wednesday that the issue is reaching crisis proportions. "The problem is that consumer technology has surpassed the 911 technology," he said. "Ninety-five percent of 911 call centers are analog (-based). Emergency data gets stripped out."

Robertson said the issue has caught the attention of two Ohio state representatives, Larry Flowers and Steven Driehaus, who have taken note of the problem and are seeking a solution in legislation they have filed in the Ohio House of Representatives. In addition to the challenge presented by incompatible connections between newer wireless devices and older analog 911 centers, the effort to fix the problem with improved 911 products and services has been slowed because wireline 911 funding is decreasing.

Robertson noted that it's difficult and often impossible to send text from cell phones and make it understandable at 911 centers. The problem surfaced in painful reality in the recent tragic Virginia Tech shootings.

"Many students expected that they could text message the 911 dispatch center with vital information, only to find out that the 911 network does not support text messaging, photos, or multimedia messages," Robertson said quoting from a new 911 Alliance report.

Robertson added that the situation is likely to get worse as cell phone and VoIP usage grows. "The biggest problem (with a VoIP call) is trying to figure out where the call is coming from," said Robertson, who added that the tragedy of the situation is that the technology to fix it is there, but the funding isn't.

The 911 Industry Alliance views the Ohio legislation as a model for other states to follow to fix the 911 problem.