A very brief history of 911:

In the United States, the first 911 call was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite and answered by U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill. The second call was six days later and was placed in Nome Alaska!

Since the 1960’s NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has supported public safety efforts to connect emergency services and communities. In the 1970’s, AT&T spearheaded the sophistication of the 911 calling system to work in all 50 states.

Our 911 system is not 100% government funded. As of August 9, 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced more than 109 Million dollars in grants was dispersed to 34 states and two tribal nations as part of the 911 Grant Program for the upgrade of 911 call centers to the next generation of capabilities (NG911). For additional information on the history and growth of the 911 system please visit 911.gov.

When 911 was created with a simple goal - easy-access:

  • Connect callers via 9-1-1 (3-digit dial or touchtone button pressing)
  • Termination at the correct Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP)

The information transmission needed to include call back information:

  • Automatic Location Information (ALI)
  • Automated Number Identification (ANI)

Effective on-site Notification and Response:

  • Procedures to facilitate first responders reaching caller
  • Management of on-site Private Emergency Answering Point (PEAP)

We have grown with technology since the 1960’s – these advancements with mobile phone, VOIP/SIP phone systems, Fiber Optic connections between buildings and states created a problem for sending and receiving accurate ALI and ANI; dispatching help can be a nightmare.

Roughly 8 years ago, I called 911 from my cell phone – a car on the side of the highway was on fire, a person was injured. My cell phone area code is 973 (N.J.), I was in Florida off I275… I was transferred 3X before landing with the correct police 911 to have help dispatched.

What is the real problem? – wireless devices

911 system does not have access to the internet or Wi-Fi (like UBER works to connect to your mobile device location).

The deadline for the mobile carriers to be 80% compliant is January 6, 2022. According to FCC.Gov The FCC's wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) rules seek to improve the effectiveness and reliability of wireless 911 services by providing 911 dispatchers with additional information on wireless 911 calls. The FCC's wireless E911 rules apply to all wireless licensees, broadband Personal Communications Service (PCS) licensees, and certain Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) licensees.

The FCC has divided its wireless E911 program into two parts - Phase I and Phase II. Under Phase I, the FCC requires carriers, within six months of a valid request by a local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), to provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call.

Under Phase II, the FCC requires wireless carriers, within six months of a valid request by a PSAP, to begin providing information that is more precise to PSAPs, specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must meet FCC accuracy standards, generally to within 50 to 300 meters, depending on the type of technology used. The deployment of E911 requires the development of new technologies and upgrades to local 911 PSAPs, as well as coordination among public safety agencies, wireless carriers, technology vendors, equipment manufacturers, and local wireline carriers.

Below is a more common than reported/exposed scenario

From the Washington Post… February 22, 2020

Yeming Shen called 911 on Feb. 10. He was alone in his Troy, N.Y., apartment, dying of the flu. But the garbled call was unintelligible to the operators, and police couldn’t pinpoint the phone’s location.

For 45 minutes after Shen called 911, five police officers, three firefighters and a police dog searched in vain for the student. All they had was a general area encompassing two apartment buildings. They eventually gave up without finding Shen.

Six hours later, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student’s roommate discovered his body, the Times Union first  reported.

The case highlights issues that have plagued 911 phone systems across the country since the advent of smartphones. Cellphone privacy settings and outdated dispatch mapping systems continue to frustrate first responders when they can’t find callers.

Where does E911 and Mobility today?

The answer – in progress…there are many cracks to still be filled for smooth working system.
  • Not every user has a mobile device that is ALI and ANI compatible
  • Not every call center is fully e911 compatible
  • Cellular dead zones still exit
  • 80% required compliancy, isn’t 100% available

* I recently attended a webinar from LB3&TC2 and some of content provided in this post is thanks to their presentation.

If you have Wireless/Mobility Sourcing questions, or questions about any blog post from Corcentric please reach out, we would be happy to chat with you.
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Tami Wankoff - Procurement Consultant

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  1. Received and and posted below with Permission (and without any edits) from Virginia Badillo - Controller, NDC

    E911 In Our Wireless World – Does It Work??
    It’s ironic (no, it’s sad) after 19 years we the people are still experiencing flaws in the 911. Every time I see this kind of situation, I experience the loss of my son Henry Badillo and his three other friends all over again. On January 24, 2003, my only child, Henry Badillo and his friends, Carlo, Max and Andrew drowned off the Long Island Sound. My son, Henry called 911 using his cell phone at 9:58pm on Friday, January 24, 2003.
    Caller: taking on water”
    Operator: Police operator number 10
    Caller: “Oh my God, Hello?
    Operator: Hello?
    Caller – “Hello, ah-we’re Listen-We’re on the Long Island Sound, in a boat, off the coast of City I- We’re gonna die”
    Call ends.

    My son died on January 24, 2003 and his body was recovered May 19, 2003 four months later.
    In the Daily News our former Police Commissioner Kelly at that time stated that the 911 call was bungled. The dispatcher never called harbor patrol, a breach of procedure, Police Commissioner Kelly admitted.
    Year 2022, we are still playing the same tune.
    In 2003, we were paying surcharges but they were using the funds for other purposes than what was intended for. I and the other parents went to Albany to lobby for a bill to be passed which was for E911. The ability to be found using your cell phone. At that time most phones did not have GPS. NY did not have all phases of E911 intact. In addition to the E911 phone situation, the dispatch operator punched in Long Island Sound, City I….into the NYPD’s 911 system but was unable to enter Long Island Sound as a location. She then asked her supervisor a 14 year veteran, for his assistance. According to published reports, he listened to what has been described as “an urgent to distressing call: three times yet merely logged the call without dispatching to authorities, as regulated by NYPD procedures. It had been reported that the supervisor failed to call the authorities because he could not make out the location.
    If the supervisor had dispatched the call, they would have been given a fighting chance as maybe Henry would have survived.

    In your article you spoke of Yeming Shen who called 911 0n February 10th. He was alone in his Troy, NY apartment dying of the flu. They said they couldn’t pinpoint the phone’s location and the call was unintelligible to the operators.

    Even in this modern day of technology we continue to fail the people. When will it be made a “Priority”? How many more lives will we lose? Will we learn anything from the 2003 tragic incident or do we just log it away in the files?

    Virginia Ruiz Badillo – mother of Henry Badillo