ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Cell Phones and 911 – Locating Critical Calls


New York, Oct 08, 2003

While cell phones have become an accessory nearly as ubiquitous as sunglasses, one in three people who own a cell phone say they originally bought it mainly for safety. According to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), at least one-third of all 911 calls are now made on cell phones. A cell phone can be a reassuring precaution to have in case of emergency, but unfortunately the location of the caller is difficult for emergency personnel to pinpoint.

A cell phone essentially functions as a radio with a transmitter and a receiver that uses radio frequencies to connect calls, and is not associated with one fixed location or address. Although the location of the cell tower used to carry a call to 911 may provide a general indication of the location of the caller, that information is often not specific enough for rescue personnel to reach the caller quickly.

Several general Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules aim to improve the reliability of wireless 911 services and identify the location of wireless 911 callers. The FCC's Basic 911 rules require wireless carriers to transmit all 911 calls to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the carrier's service or not. The wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) rules are divided into two parts - Phase I and Phase II. Phase I requires carriers, upon appropriate request by a local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), to report the telephone number of a wireless 911 caller and the location of the antenna that received the call. Phase II requires wireless carriers to provide far more precise location information, within 50 to 100 meters in most cases.

In February 2003, ANSI member and accredited standards developer the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) released its Wireless E911 Phase II Readiness Package, which allows calltakers, or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), to receive both the caller's wireless phone number and their location information. The Readiness Package is a standard evaluation method for PSAPs to determine and document their status for wireless carriers from whom they request Phase II implementation. The Readiness Package is available on the ATIS web site and has been distributed to PSAPs around the country.

On October 1, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved legislation to speed implementation of E911 services. The E911 Implementation Act of 2003 (H.R. 2898) includes the authorization of federal grants to assist PSAPs with upgrades in equipment, infrastructure, and personnel training. The bill now moves to the full House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on it before the end of the year.

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