Whatever it takes, please fix this
The abduction and murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith in the Overland Park, Kan., area a couple of months ago caused me to think of another crime committed more than a decade ago in upstate New York. A college student named Jennifer Koon was abducted from a shopping center and then murdered. While captive, she made a 911 call using her wireless phone, but the public-safety answering point, or PSAP, lacked the technology necessary to find her.
I spoke recently with Jennifer’s father, New York Assemblyman David Koon, who told me he was amazed at the similarities between his daughter’s abduction and that of Kelsey Smith. One of the big differences, however, is that authorities reportedly had pinged Smith’s phone and then were able to identify the cell tower that handled the transmission, which helped narrow the search area.
Koon entered politics as a result of his daughter’s tragedy and remains a tireless advocate for wireless 911 policy reform. He said conditions have improved dramatically in New York state, where 85% of counties now are capable of handling a Phase II call, which identifies the location of the handset used to place the emergency call. In his home county of Monroe, the lives of about a dozen people have been saved since the county’s PSAP became Phase II-compliant, including a snowmobiler who crashed in a desolate area and broke his back, rendering him immobile. “They got to him within 15 minutes — otherwise he would have froze to death,” Koon said.
But, not every county is as fortunate as Monroe County, N.Y. According to the National Emergency Number Association, only a little more than half of the nation’s counties are Phase II-compliant. Worse, roughly one in five counties — mostly in rural areas — still lack PSAPs that are even Phase I-compliant, which requires the identification of the cellular tower that transmitted the emergency call.
This needs to change — sooner rather than later. Policymakers have an obligation to give all who encounter dire circumstances — regardless of where they live — the best chance for survival. Ubiquitous Phase II capability is crucial to meeting that obligation.