Everyone's familiar with 911, the national emergency number, and how it's the go-to number to call in case of a fire, medical emergency, or crime. But like everything else in today's increasingly advanced world of telecommunications and mobile computing, 911 has undergone at least one interesting change, and that's the creation of enhanced 911.
If you've never heard of enhanced 911 (or e911 if you want to be current and hip), you should check this out and get brought up to speed.
Enhanced 911 means you can get help even if calling from a mobile phone
Enhanced 911 Defined
When someone calls regular 911, the call gets forwarded automatically to a PSAP (public safety answering point), otherwise known as a 911 call center. When the emergency call is answered, the operator is given the ALI (automatic location information) which pinpoints the call's precise location. That's great for land lines, which are static. What about mobile phones? That's where e911 comes in!
With enhabced 911, the 911 operator can ascertain the general area of the call, but can't pinpoint the exact location. When you realize that, according to the Cellular Telephone Industry Association's findings over 150,000 emergency wireless calls are made in the USA each day, you can see the problem.
Back in 1996, the FCC stepped in and mandated that all traditional mobile phone carriers had to support e911, and, as of May 19, 2005, certain VoIP providers. After that date, the FCC required that any Internet Service Providers (ISP) that has interconnected VoIP calls with the public switched telephone network must provide enhanced 911 service.
The implementation was accomplished in three phases.
Phase Zero: All 911 calls must be routed to a PSAP whether or not the caller is a customer of the network being used.
Phase One: Mobile phone carriers must allow a number to be displayed along with each wireless 911 call. This way, the call center operator can call back if there's a disconnection.
Phase Two: In this last phase, the FCC requires that carrier place a GPS in each phone so that specific latitude and longitude co-ordinates can be sent. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters (or 164 to 984 feet).
How It Works
All of the phases have been implemented, with Phase Two initiated back in 2005. Today, the cell-phone user's number, also known as the Automatic Number Identification (ANI), as well as the address and location of the receiving-antenna site are sent to the E-911 Tandem. The Tandem is the switch which routes the 911 call to the right PSAP, which is based a geographic location as defined by the ANI. When the caller's voice and the ANI are transferred to the PSAP, the call center operator can view a graphic display that shows the longitude and latitude of the caller as accessed via GPS satellites. The operator's computer then links to the ALI database, which in turn stores caller information such as address and other details. Just so long as the caller doesn't decide to hop in their car and take off, the operator can pinpoint their location.
What The Future Holds
It's conceivable that the FCC will require even more stringent and precise locations in the coming years, in order to better narrow down the source of a 911 call. But what all of this e911 hoopla means is that making an emergency call on your cell phone can be just as effective as a call made on a land line. Considering how many of us use mobile phones, that's a comforting thought.
Byline: John Terra has been a freelance writer since 1985. His work is often featured through MediaShower.com
Photo Credit: J D Mack3