States May Require Systems To Locate 911 Callers

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Sophisticated technology that makes it easier to call someone can, paradoxically, make it harder for police, fire and paramedic personnel to find them when responding to 911 calls, the Chicago Tribune points out. Calls for help now are just as likely to come from cell phones or from museums, schools, and office buildings where it is difficult to pinpoint the source of distress.

The technology to provide public safety dispatchers with the precise location within a building of a 911 caller is available but seldom used, the Tribune says. A Chicago business, RedSky Technologies Inc., is trying to change that by selling an affordable enhanced 911 software package to companies in large office buildings.

It is not just a way to avert disaster–systems to pinpoint caller locations within large buildings are required by law in Illinois and a growing number of states. “Every year, there are horror stories where we cannot get the information before something terrible happens,” Nancy Pollock of Metro 911 in Minneapolis, said about the time 911 operators now need to spend on the phone to get enough information to help.

The industry is pushing for laws modeled after one passed in Illinois after the 1987 death of a woman who died of smoke inhalation on the 20th floor of a Chicago office building. Firefighters were delayed by confusion about her location.

“The problem just grows every year,” said Pollock. “Now we’re seeing more apartment complexes that have PBX systems. The landlords include phone service as part of the rent. We’ve had emergency responders going up and down corridors at 3 a.m., pounding on doors looking for a heart attack victim.” Pollock said some states have joined Illinois in requiring what is known as enhanced 911, or E911, and others will follow. “I see it happening state by state in a slow march,” she said.


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