Loud and clear

Published 7:12 pm Saturday, April 7, 2007

By Staff
The chief of the Federal Communications Commission is making the right call when it comes to 911 calls from cellular telephones.
Increasingly, people are making 911 calls to police, firefighters and emergency-medical personnel from cellular phones rather than from landlines these days. And don’t believe what many television crime shows depict: Public-safety personnel using extremely accurate technology to direct them to cell-phone callers in danger. In truth, the accuracy of that technology may range from several yards to several miles.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin told The Associated Press this week he plans to propose meaningful modifications to the 911 system. The FCC should make those changes.
Martin supports a proposal by an association of emergency responders to tighten rules governing how accuracy is measured.
When it comes to landline telephones, operators at a 911 emergency-communications center usually have a specific location from which a call is being made. But with cell phones, 911 operators often have vague ideas from where a 911 call originates. In such circumstances, people who are lost or cannot speak for whatever reason may wait for hours before rescue workers are able to track them.
There’s no argument that cell phones allow people to call for help from more isolated places, but cell-phone users must understand the limitations of existing cell-phone technology, according to public-safety advocates and cell-phone industry people interviewed by The Associated Press.
There’s no guarantee someone making a 911 call from Beaufort County will initially speak to a 911 operator in Beaufort County. It’s possible that person could speak to a 911 operator in another county. By the time the appropriate responder is notified about the call, precious time has been lost. And when it comes to many emergencies, loss of time equates to loss of life.
The FCC chief’s effort is a prelude to a study by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials that will highlight the limitations of ‘‘enhanced’’ 911 systems, according to an AP report.
Smith told the AP he worries about television dramas in which police are able to locate a person in distress down to within a few feet.
Martin and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials are sending the right signal. It is hoped that the FCC will pick up that signal and act accordingly. Changing the existing system as suggested should help save lives.
When someone makes a 911 call from his or her cell phone, that person shouldn’t have to worry if emergency responders will be able locate him or her.
Martin’s message should be heard — loud and clear. The FCC must respond — loud and clear.