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Officials: 911 locators less precise than Uber

National Association of State 911 Administrators executive director Evelyn Bailey said the locator system is not always reliable

By EMS1 Staff

EAST CALAIS, Vt. — Many wonder why 911 systems aren’t always as precise at locating callers as apps such as Uber, but officials said the system is not always as reliable as it should be.

Pinpointing a caller’s location can be much harder for a 911 operator than it is for a smartphone app because wireless service providers often use less precise data when pinpointing the caller’s location, according to How Stuff Works.

National Association of State 911 Administrators executive director Evelyn Bailey said the system that has been used for decades, which involves pinging cellular towers to provide location estimates, is not always reliable.

"It depends upon the infrastructure that's available where the caller is located," Bailey said.

Bailey added that if you are outside and near a cell tower, your location should be accurate. However, if you’re in an area where cellphone coverage isn’t as reliable, such as in a dense urban area or a building with lots of metal, location pinpointing can be a lot harder.

The Federal Communications Commission set a timetable in 2015 to improve location information accuracy, and said that by 2021, all carriers must be able to give “dispatchable” location, or within 164 feet of where the caller is.

The barometric pressure of cellphones that are capable of measuring it must also be provided, so that dispatchers can easier determine that altitude of the caller to figure out what floor of a building they are calling from.

The National Emergency Address Database is also being tested, which will provide the locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth beacons.

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