Legislator-911 dispatcher hopes to fix misdirected calls
J.P. Sredzinski has submitted legislation that requires 911 calls to be routed to the nearest "public safety answering point"
By Susan Haigh
HARTFORD, Conn. — Monroe state Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, a public safety dispatch supervisor, knows firsthand the challenges of fielding misdirected 911 emergency calls from cellphone users.
While some calls are easily rerouted to the correct dispatch center, others become tricky when the person isn't sure where he or she is located and the call has been routed through the nearest cellphone tower that may be in another community.
"They don't know where they are. You don't know where they are," said Sredzinski, who works in Stratford. He said calls have to be transferred to another emergency call center numerous times each day.
"Dispatchers do spend valuable time on the phone," said the Republican lawmaker.
Recently named the new top House Republican on the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee, Sredzinski has submitted legislation that requires 911 calls to be routed to the nearest "public safety answering point," a 24-hour emergency call center. Sredzinski acknowledged he's unsure whether such legislation is absolutely necessary or possible, given the technological challenges, but said he wants to bring the issue to light.
"It's something that needs to be addressed," he said, expressing frustration that "we live in in a society where, with a phone app, Domino's knows exactly where you are" but not a 911 dispatcher. He noted that California lawmakers last year passed legislation requiring a comprehensive statewide review of that state's 911 routing decision-making process.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, an estimated 70 percent of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones. The FCC notes how the phones are mobile and therefore not associated with a fixed location like a landline phone, when the caller's number and address automatically appears on the 911 operator's screen.
"While the location of the cell site closest to the 911 caller may provide a general indication of the caller's location, that information is not always specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly," the FCC notes on its website.
Of the nearly 2.2 million emergency calls made in Connecticut last year, state records show 332,287 were made using a traditional phone line, 119,66 using an internet-based phone service and more than 1.7 million using a wireless device.
Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said his department has had a few instances in which it was difficult to determine where a 911 caller was located. He said he welcomes the legislation if there is something that can be done.
"We spend a little bit of time trying to identify the location of a caller and that has delayed our response, but thankfully it's not a life-threatening thing," he said. "But how many times can you roll the dice?"
The FCC has been working on the issue of transitioning 911 services from landline only to wireless and cellular technologies since 1996. According to an April 2015 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the first phase focused on allowing emergency dispatchers to view a wireless caller's number and identify the cell tower nearest to the caller's phone. The second phase is supposed to increase the accuracy of the caller's location by providing their longitude and latitude.
This comes amid efforts to also expand the number of public safety answering points that can accept 911 calls via text messaging, an initiative known as Next Generation 911. Connecticut is among the states pursuing such an upgrade.