The surprise impact of cell phones on 911
The rise of wireless technology reveals the weakness of call center routing — and funding models
By Art Hsieh
I gave up my home landline 2 years ago and haven’t missed it. The change began when I switched cable television providers and they asked if I wanted home phone service bundled in for free. Now, what medic doesn’t like the sound of that? So we signed up and kissed our old phone service goodbye.
A year later, when it came time to renew and start paying a fee, I took stock of the phone usage. Turns out that my wife and I both were receiving most of our calls via our mobile phones. The house phone had become our “spam” filter — only cold calls were coming through. It was easy enough to discontinue the service. We haven’t looked back.
This is happening worldwide. In fact, communications in many developing countries are based entirely on mobile phone networks — they bypassed having to build an expensive hard-wire system.
However, 911 systems have been slow to respond to these changes. It’s only been recently that wireless emergency calls have been routed to the appropriate public safety answering point. In many parts of the country, calling 911 on your cell phone requires a couple of extra steps — and delay — of routing calls to the appropriate communication center.
As this article points out, 911 systems cost money. Most systems are funded almost entirely on surcharges built into a landline phone bill. So far, this hasn’t seemed to work out so well for 911 services. Declining funding means less money for maintenance and upgrades, not to mention salaries.
What’s happening in Pennsylvania is probably not unique. How is your 911 communication center handling the change in technology? I’d be interested in what others are experiencing.