Emergency Dispatch Technology Stuck in the Past


October 14, 2018

ROSWELL, GA. – October 9, 2018 (tuscaloosanews.com) An online article at tuscaloosanews.com discusses the aging technology in most 911 emergency call centers and how some areas are taking steps to upgrade.*

The level of technology available to a dispatcher when you dial 911 depends mostly on where you live or where you’re located when an emergency occurs. There are no federal mandates or standards for call centers, which means they are managed by state and local governments. The technology inside most of them is still based largely on landline telephones.

To illustrate the gap between some centers’ technology, during the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, high school students had to whisper information to dispatchers or text information to people outside of the school who could call 911. In Michigan, a few months later, a woman was able to text information about a hostage situation directly to 911 dispatchers. Centers’ inability to accept text messages and videos has become a hindrance to officers responding to emergencies. 

In addition, almost 80 percent of 911 calls in the United States come from cell phones, but many centers are unable to easily detect the exact location of a cell phone caller. In the late 1960s, when the 911 system was implemented, dispatchers would receive only a few phone calls about any given emergency, and the landline calls would be traced back to the address registered to the phone line. 

Now, because people have phones with them at all times, dispatchers are inundated with calls during emergencies, and the calls are not as easy to trace. If someone calls from a high-rise building, for example, dispatchers won’t be able to tell which floor that person is on, costing valuable response time. 

Many communities, like Roswell, Georgia, have started taking steps to upgrade their 911 technology, including acceptance of text messages and working toward accepting video submissions and livestreams. 

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