Incomplete, inaccurate 911 maps ‘are killing people,’ FCC official says
ORLANDO—Industry and federal regulators are making strides to improve location information associated with emergency calls from wireless devices, but such efforts will be undermined if the maps used by public-safety answering points (PSAPs) are not complete and accurate—a circumstance that is the case “too often,” an FCC official said yesterday.
David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau, said the nuances of wireless technologies can have dire consequences, if PSAPs do not have the proper mapping resources.
“In 911, the maps aren’t right too often,” Simpson said during a session at APCO 2016. “Too often, the maps end at the county line, and then a misroute occurs.
“Sometimes it’s not a misroute, but the ambiguity hits when the call is served by a tower in an adjacent jurisdiction, and it goes to a PSAP that doesn’t have a map for where the caller is. We lost another person this year from that.”
Simpson cited the case of Kevin Vroome, a husband and father who died at his home in North Carolina. Vroome’s wife called 911, but the medical response was delayed, in part because the answering PSAP—in a neighboring jurisdiction, where the tower serving the call was located—did not have a map with the address information. Simpson called on all members of the 911 community to address such issues.
“They did go beyond the county line; the street centerline could change with any street that started in that county—in one case, a half a mile in,” he said. “[Vroome] was 50 yards away—at his home address—from where the street ended in the CAD [computer-aided-dispatch map] for that call.
“We can’t let maps kill people, and maps are killing people. So, if you would play any role in the chain of procuring systems or services for your jurisdiction, or you’re a vendor that sells CAD or a GIS provider, please engage. Don’t let maps end at limit of the jurisdiction.”
Simpson noted “exciting activity” in the effort to develop technologies that will provide more accurate location information, even when an emergency call is made from a wireless device located inside a building. But the benefits of better location technology can be negated if the maps are not accurate—something Simpson said he learned while serving in the Navy during the early days of GPS.
“We got a better way to locate where we were through GPS, and we thought our days of running ship aground were over—until we realized that all of our maps were generated around a source which was analog in nature and the very accurate digital position plotted on a map that was … based on angles of headlands and where the coastline was,” Simpson said. “We ran several ships aground, just because the maps weren’t right.”
Also on the 911 front, Simpson cited process in deployment of text-to-911 solutions in U.S. PSAPs.
“20% of the nation today lives in an area where they can text to 911—that’s the good news,” Simpson said. “The bad news is that 80% of the nation doesn’t [live where they can text to 911], and when that 20% visits friends and family in the 80%, they don’t always know that [text-to-911 functionality] doesn’t extend. So, we’ve got to work hard getting the rest of the 80% done.”
When text-to-911 capability was proposed, some in the 911 community expressed concern that accepting emergency communications from the public in this manner could have a negative impact on performance within a PSAP, but that has not been the case thus far, Simpson said.
“So far, from that 20%, I’ve heard nothing but success stories,” he said. “If you’ve got an example where we’re worse off because we did text to 911, let me know.
“But I have countless examples where lives have been saved that wouldn’t have been saved otherwise. It wasn’t just a more convenient way to contact 911; they would not have been saved, if there had not been a new mode of interacting with a 911 call center.”