Why can Uber find you, but 911 struggles to?

(KSN photo / file)

SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Why is it apps like Uber can find you easily, but emergency services struggle to locate people in need?

Sedgwick County 9-1-1 said the location issues stem from a lack of cell phone technology.

“Landlines are great because that information rolls over kind of automatically, so we will have your house number, your street name all of that good stuff. That’s not necessarily the case with a cell phone,” said Sedgwick County Emergency Communications Deputy Director Laura Meyers.

Similar to landlines, apps on people’s phones, like Google Maps and Uber, automatically pinpoint and send information about someone’s whereabouts. Meyers said when someone calls 9-1-1 using a cell phone, 9-1-1 computers have to communicate with individual cell phone networks to find someone’s location.

“We have to wait for that cell phone or that technology to start pulling from the satellite that it’s hitting from. It’s not an instantaneous thing so it creates a lot of stress and frustration,” Meyers said.

Meyers said the cell phone issue isn’t a new problem. She said emergency staff has been battling it for years, however it’s out of 9-1-1’s control to change it.

“We are really just reliant on the cell phone providers, the carriers, at this point. The ball is in their court,” she said.

The FCC is pushing for cell phone carriers to improve 9-1-1 technology. CTIA, the trade association representing the wireless communications industry sent KSN the following statement in reference to the technology update.

“Wireless 9-1-1 location technologies have helped first responders save lives for more than 20 years and the wireless industry, FCC and public safety community are working collaboratively to adopt new technologies that further enhance accuracy,” said CTIA spokesperson Justin Cole.

Sedgwick County emergency officials said they’re optimistic the changes will occur adding they’d like to see them made sooner rather than later.

“It would just save us some time and seconds save lives and we try to save seconds,” Meyers said.

KSN reached out to Verizon, Sprint and AT&T for comment. The companies referred KSN to CTIA.


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