The number of 9-1-1 calls placed by people using wireless phones has radically increased. Public safety personnel estimate that about 50 percent of the millions of 9-1-1 calls they receive daily are placed from wireless phones, and that percentage is growing.
For many Americans, the ability to call 9-1-1 for help in an emergency is one of the main reasons they own a wireless phone. Other wireless 9-1-1 calls come from "Good Samaritans" reporting traffic accidents, crimes or other emergencies. Prompt delivery of these and other wireless 9-1-1 calls to public safety organizations benefits the public by promoting safety of life and property.
Information on 9-1-1 and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOiP)
Unique Challenges Posed by Wireless Phones
While wireless phones can be an important public safety tool, they also create unique challenges for public safety and emergency response personnel and for wireless service providers. Because wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address. A caller using a wireless phone could be calling from anywhere. While the location of the cell site closest to the caller may provide a very general indication of the caller's location, that information is not usually specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly.
The FCC's Wireless 9-1-1 Rules
As part of its efforts to improve public safety, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules aimed at improving the reliability of wireless 9-1-1 services and the accuracy of the location information transmitted with a wireless 9-1-1 call. Such improvements enable emergency response personnel to provide assistance to 9-1-1 callers much more quickly.
The FCC's wireless 9-1-1 rules apply to all wireless licensees, broadband Personal Communications Service (PCS) licensees, and certain Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) licensees. Here are the specific requirements:
Basic 9-1-1 rules require wireless service providers to:
Phase I Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) rules require wireless service providers to:
Phase II E9-1-1 rules require wireless service providers to:
within six months of a valid request by a PSAP, provide more precise location information to PSAPs: specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending on the type of technology used.
provide even more precise location information, specifically, information accurate to the closest PSAP. The FCC established a five-year phase-in period for this requirement to allow wireless service providers more time to develop this capability. Wireless service providers must report to the FCC annually on their progress in supplying this more accurate location information for PSAPs with Phase II E9-1-1 capability.
Wireless service providers may comply with certain FCC E9-1-1 rules by ensuring that 95 percent of their customers' handsets are E9-1-1-capable (also referred to as location-capable). The FCC's rules permit providers to choose how they will meet this requirement. Some providers may provide incentives to encourage customers without location-capable phones to obtain new, location-capable phones. For example, they may offer location-capable handsets at a discount. Some providers may choose to prevent reactivation of older handsets that don't have E9-1-1 capability or may adopt various other measures.
If a provider declines to reactivate a handset that is not location-capable, the FCC requires the provider to still deliver a 9-1-1 call from that handset to the appropriate PSAP.
The provider, however, may not be able to accurately and automatically determine your location for the PSAP. Therefore, when replacing your handset, you should always ask about the new handset's E9-1-1 capabilities.
Also, consider creating a contact in your wireless phone's memory with the name "ICE" (in Case of Emergency) listing the phone numbers of people you want to be notified if there is an emergency.