9-1-1 Sham or Shame? Pt1

by Colin Berkshire

I was recently in a serious automobile accident. My son was driving and we got T-Boned by a car going 40-50 miles an hour. My wife was injured and needed emergency medical care. (BTW: She is now mostly recovered.)

Everybody was in shock, so I ended up in the lead role to call 911 to ask for emergency service and an ambulance. Oh, what a sham 911 is.

The 911 call was routed to the wrong dispatch center, based on incorrect GPS coordinates. The dispatcher just dumped me into the county 911 dispatch where I was re-queued. Well, they couldn’t find me on their maps, despite the fact that I was looking directly at the street signs indicating the cross road and highway name. They eventually transferred me to a new 911 dispatcher for the city I was in. The city couldn’t find the street intersection (really!!) and just dumped me back into the county 911 queue. Fortunately, I got the same operator as before who asked why I was back with them. I explained that the city couldn’t find the intersection. They just dumped me back into the city 911 queue, again.

This is shocking in many ways:

  1. Why didn’t they have my correct coordinates from the phone GPS? I looked at my iPhone map and it had me absolutely precisely located. How could this not be the same at the 911 dispatch center?
  2. Why didn’t the first or second or third dispatcher take some responsibility for the call? They just did a blind transfer and they didn’t wait to see that they had sent me off to the correct jurisdiction. So I was bounced back and forth between the same dispatch centers repeatedly.
  3. Why can’t the 911 dispatchers find an intersection on their maps? I had the correct highway and cross street and I gave it to them. But they insisted they couldn’t find it. Do they not use something as accurate as Apple Maps?
  4. The entire process took more than 10 minutes before an ambulance was even dispatched.

The simple truth is that 911 dispatch centers are grossly mis-managed by bumbling buffoons who have little caring that they are playing with people’s lives. They aren’t concerned that GPS is inaccurately transmitted, they don’t take responsibility for calls. They just don’t care.

So what do they care about?

Well, according to chief buffoon Eric Holderman, the former director of the King County Office of Emergency Management, 911 money is needed and spent for things like:

  • Cameras pre-positioned in static locations throughout a jurisdiction, for surveillance purposes.
  • Dynamic cameras attached to vehicles and officers.
  • Web based telephone alternatives.
  • Crowd sourcing of criminal activity.

Um, none of this sounds like it puts much emphasis on what consumers think 911 is all about. It sounds a lot like Big Brother.

911 is a sham!

In most jurisdictions, people pay about $20 a year for 911 dispatch services. You see this $1.50 to $2 charge on every phone bill. This adds up to a lot of money…tens of millions of dollars a year in a typical state.

But the sad truth is that this money gets spent on surveillance cameras mounted to traffic lights, for license plate readers on police cars, on paramilitary equipment including armored vehicles, and on donuts.

I suggest you call 911 and make a “test call” to ensure that your phone is working properly. Immediately announce the call as a “verification call” and ask the dispatcher to tell you your current location to confirm that your phone’s GPS is working and communicating properly.

Here is what will happen: A rude and snippy dispatcher will tersely speak with you. You can then offer to call later if the dispatch center is busy. They will snap back at you, but indicate it is not. They then will be unable to tell you even approximately where you are located. That is because they just don’t know.

911 dispatch centers largely use an utterly ineffective way of locating you called “tower triangulation.” This is a fancy way of saying “garbage data in is garbage data out”. This system just doesn’t work. It isn’t even close in most cases.

What is odd is that your smart phone knows precisely where you are…usually within a foot or three. But this information isn’t transmitted to the 911 dispatch center. So they can’t find you on a map when you call. Does that suck, or what?

I cannot understand why these smart phones can’t transmit your coordinates to the dispatch center. Heck, they could simply touch-tone latitude and longitude when the call is answered and in less than two seconds your location would be in their hands…to 10 decimal places of accuracy. (There are faster ways of sending this data, I just use touch-tone as the most immediate and dead simple way of sending it to every 911 center.)

But do you want to know the really funny thing?

If law enforcement wants to track you or know your precise location they can send a special ping to the phone and it will answer back with the location. Yes, this is correct, the FBI can find you but the 911 folks cannot.

I guess that shows what the priorities are.