Monmouth County couldn’t pinpoint cellphone 911 calls — until now
In an age when Uber can register your pickup location in a second, and your phone's mapping apps can instantly get you from point A to point B, 911 dispatchers generally struggle to pinpoint your location if the call is coming from a mobile device.
Starting the shift away from an "antiquated" response system, the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office has implemented new technology in its 911 Communications Center that provides fast and accurate location data for emergency calls from wireless phones. Before, if a wireless caller didn't have an exact address, their location was not easy to determine.
"This system now allows us to to take it right to the IP address of that cellular phone," Sheriff Shaun Golden said of NYC-based Rapid SOS.
The center gave reporters a demonstration of the new technology versus what's been in place for years. A call from a mobile phone, using the old technology, offered dispatchers a search radius about the size of a volleyball on their computer screen. Using Rapid SOS, the location radius was about the size of a half-dollar coin.
Approximately 80 percent of 911 calls received at the center come from mobile devices. The center handles calls for almost all of the county's municipalities.
Unlike landlines, wireless calls are not connected to a specific address. Dispatchers rely on the location of cell towers.
Ross Martin, senior public safety communicator, said the new addition will result in speedier response times.
"With all the shore towns, you get a lot of people coming that aren't from around here. They don't know where they're at," Martin added. "We get people lost in the woods; they can't find their way out."
Martin said the technology has already helped the center pinpoint numerous people in emergency situations. A drugged-up caller, admittedly on LSD, called in while walking aimlessly around Manasquan, unsure of where he was or where he was headed.
The new system also updates a caller's location when they're on the move. Before, a call from a moving car would have to be "pinged" time and time again.
"Through Rapid SOS [...] the same location that you would use on Google Maps or Apple Maps or Uber — we receive that location information during a 911 call, and we're able to pass that information to the 911 center," said Michelle Cahn, head of community engagement for Rapid SOS.
The technology works during calls placed from an iPhone with iOS 12 or Android 4.0 and up.
Everyone in the center has the capability to use the technology, but it's not yet fully integrated into the standard response operations. That, Golden said, will require "some money."
Since 2004, approximately $1.5 billion in "911 fees" paid through New Jerseyans' cell-phone bills have been diverted to purposes other than emergency response system upgrades.
"We need the state to step up, fully fund the 911 system," Golden said. "Until they do that, we'll be operating on a system that's antiquated, was built back in the 1970s."
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