Nebraska plans to make 911 better

Posted at 11:38 PM, Oct 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 00:38:00-04

When you call 911, you expect emergency responders to find you quickly, sometimes just minutes can mean the difference between life and death, but in reality, it is much more complicated. 

Our cell phones are capable of so much technology. We use apps for everything, and they have the ability to track where we are 24/7, but when you call 911 from a cell phone there is no guarantee they will find your exact location. 

In Douglas County the 911 center received over 530,000 calls in 2015.

75% of those were from cell phone, which is about the number of people who live in Omaha, all calling 911 from their mobile devices.

“The information we get from cell phones is at best maybe 50% accurate,” said Douglas County Interim Director, Mark Conrey.

“The way that we communicate and the devices that we use are so different now than 10 years ago,” said Nebraska State Commissioner, Crystal Rhoades.

Rhoades said there are efforts to make 911 location services better.

‘This will impact people's lives and if we aren't able to find you we cannot help you,” she said.

Efforts that would help prevent situations like the one in February, where it took nearly 40 minutes to find a standoff in northwest Omaha.

Nebraska is looking at upgrading their whole 911 system to “Next Generation 911."

It would allow text to 911, callers would be able to send pictures or video, and the accuracy of the location could be based on Wifi.

“So now what is happening and what will take place over the next few years is that your phone will be interacting with the environment it is in,” said CEO of the National Emergency Number Association, Brian Fontes.

Fontes said that the need to advance accuracy technology is a must, and it is not going to happen overnight.
“There will always likely be a range, that range may be reduced to just a matter of meters or feet down the road,” he said.

When 911 operators don't have the most accurate location provided to them, they have to rely on other methods to find that caller, and even then, they may only get as close as several meters yards.

“This is what we have been facing for the last 10-12 years, and it puts a tremendous amount of strain on the operators” said Conrey, “The only degree of certainty we have is having the caller know where they are.”

Conrey said “Next Gen 911” will be a great update, but Douglas County has already been dealing with issues with text to 911.

Apps are being created and those are relaying wrong locations and in some cases multiple locations come through on one call, leaving a dispatcher to decide where to send help.

“We don't even know who designed these apps, we are so vulnerable,” said Conrey.

Commissioner Rhoades said that there will need to be some sort of regulation standards for the system to work, but it is imperative Nebraska updates their systems to provide the best service. 

“What we need though is as a community to make the commitment and make the investment so we can get the information we need to find you when we are in trouble,” said Rhoades.