More NJ counties better equipped to handle 911 calls from cellphones
A growing number of New Jersey dispatch centers are jumping on board with an upgraded 911 response service that's adapted to handle a world of calls from smartphones instead of landlines.
"The problem for years with cellphone 911 calls is they would go to the closest cell tower," said Martin Pagliughi, director of the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management.
Over the years, Pagliughi said, calls in the lower portion of the county would accidentally be bounced to a tower in Delaware. Calls from the northern part of Avalon would be misinterpreted as coming from the next town over.
Since the beginning of June, though, pinpointing these mobile calls has become much easier for the folks taking them at the county's new central dispatch center.
Using the program RapidSOS, dispatchers can pinpoint a call within 150 feet of the caller.
"And it can also track a person if they're walking or driving or anywhere calling from a cellphone that's moving," Pagliughi said.
The county is among the latest in the state to take it upon themselves to shift away from an antiquated response system, instead of waiting for the state to move into Next Generation 911.
Monmouth County implemented RapidSOS in December. Other counties using the new technology include Burlington, Cumberland and Gloucester; RapidSOS said it couldn't share a full list.
"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," Michelle Cahn, head of community engagement for RapidSOS, told New Jersey 101.5 during an interview in December.
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. Legislation to mandate a certain percentage of these fees be used for technology upgrades has not moved since 2018. A bill to require that all New Jersey call centers be equipped with Next Generation within three years was withdrawn from consideration in January.
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