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Cell Phones Not Traceable by 9-1-1, Yet

Cell Phones Not Traceable by 9-1-1, Yet

Posted - May 18, 2004 at 3:00 p.m.



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Kim Johnson ReportingIt seems everyone has a mobile telephone one these days, from young teens on up. And surveys show a lot of us get them for their potential to help in emergencies. But there are scenarios in which cell phones may be giving us a false sense of security.

The ability to call for help quickly is a major reason the wireless phone industry has exploded in the last decade.

Dave Blonquist, Verizon Wireless: "We're doing our fact-finding on selling a customer, and that's one of the key areas they sell them for, is based on security needs."

Blonquist says on average 118,000 9-1-1 calls are made from cell phones every day in the U.S. And while those phones are helpful in emergencies, they have limitations some owners aren't aware of.

Terry Ingram, Exec. Director Valley Emergency Comm: “Most people think when they call 9-1-1 we know where they are; and right now, that's only true about fifty percent of the time."

Ingram says that's because dispatchers in Utah are only able to identify the number and location of a wired or landline call.

Terry Ingram: "Right now we can't track a cell phone call at all. A good example of that would be the bomb threat up at the capitol during the last legislative session."

More tragic examples have made headlines, including the drownings of four New York teenagers. They called 9-1-1 from their floundering dinghy, but rescuers couldn't figure out where they were calling from. When help arrived it was too late.

Seven years go the FCC ordered the creation of E-9-1-1, a wireless enhanced 9-1-1 system. By November 2005, every call center in the country is supposed to be able to track the number of a cell phone and where the caller is located. Utah lawmakers recently passed house bill 36 to bring the state into compliance.

So, starting July first, you'll see a 13 cent surcharge added to your phone bill. The money will create an enhanced 9-1-1 system here to enable dispatchers to find you, no matter where you're calling from.

Here's a good tip if you should find yourself in an emergency. When you call 9-1-1 on your cell phone, give your number immediately, even before trying to explain the problem, so the dispatcher can call you back if the call is dropped. Then give your location as best you can.

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