Why 911 Isn't As Reliable As You'd Think

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
When you think of 911, you probably think of an ambulance zooming to your address moments after making the phone call. And if you grew up in America, it was likely the first phone number you ever learned (unless your parents were big Tommy Tutone fans).

But last night on John Oliver's weekly report on what you didn't even know you should be worried about, he explored one of the biggest problems facing 911 services — that the dispatcher you call might have a hard time actually finding you. And despite the proliferation of smartphones that know exactly where you are at all times, this problem has increased in recent years.

When everyone had to call emergency services from a landline, it was easy for 911 dispatchers to pinpoint exactly where the call was coming from. But with the rise of cell phones, an exact location isn't as easy for their largely outdated systems to pin down. And the show reports cell phone calls make up 70 to 80% of all calls coming in to 911. In fact, in a particularly astonishing clip, we can see one call center couldn't pinpoint a caller's location...and the call was being made from inside the call center itself. That is an epic fail of truly epic proportions.

But what about all those location-savvy apps, from Facebook to Uber? Unfortunately, their technology hasn't trickled down to 911. When will it? Better location technology will reportedly be available to 911 centers by 2021 (and even then, estimates put one out of five callers unable to be located). Obviously this is completely unacceptable — a potential fix is five years off, and still, 20% of callers may not get the help they need.

Hey startups, why don't you revolutionize this problem that needs to be solved?

You can check out the full video below.

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