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News Break

02/05/2004 16:21:12 EST

Tracking Emergency Cell Calls Falls Short
By JONATHAN D. SALANT
Associated Press Writer

Half of the emergency 911 centers still will not be able to track
cell calls by next year's deadline for wireless companies to
outfit their phones with locator technology, according to a group
that represents call center administrators.

State and local governments would have to more than double their
annual spending to $1.7 billion to meet the deadline, the National
Emergency Number Association said in a report Thursday. That is an
unlikely prospect given the budget shortfalls facing many local
governments.

"The reality is there's never going to be enough money to all the
things we need to do," said Jeff Arnold, deputy legislative
director for the National Association of Counties. "It is a
priority. It's just a function of having available dollars to make
it happen. The money just isn't there."

When someone calls 911 from a regular home or business phone, the
address automatically is displayed on the screen of one of 6,000
call centers. But a traditional cell phone cannot be tracked.

The government told wireless carriers in 1996 to install
technology that can find callers within 100 yards of their
location.

The companies either must use a global positioning device in 95
percent of their phones by Dec. 31, 2005, or install technology
that automatically locates a caller based on the distance and
direction from the phone to the tower transmitting the call. That
network-based technology must be completely installed within 18
months after local public safety authorities request it.

The wireless companies will meet the deadline, but the call center
association said only 50 percent of the centers will have the
enhanced 911 technology to locate the wireless caller. Currently,
only about 1,100, or 18 percent, of the call centers have the
technology.

"It was shocking to find the level of readiness to be where it
is," said a former association president, John Melcher. "We need
more resources and more action at the state and local level," said
Melcher, deputy director of the Harris County, Texas, 911
Emergency Network.

The association's findings mirror a December report of the General
Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO said
fewer than half of the 50 states reported they will have full
enhanced 911 systems by 2005. Some states were unable to even
estimate when the new systems would be installed.

____

On the Net:

National Emergency Number Association: http://www.nena.org
 
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