Tracking system tested for cellular phonesIn this story:
January 22, 1997
From Reporter Christine Negroni
(CNN) -- Emergency calls to 911 are easy enough to handle when the dispatcher knows where to send help.
But when a woman was lost in a blinding snowstorm in South Dakota earlier this month, rescue workers were unable to track her call for help because she was using a cellular phone.
Companies working on the technology to track cellular phone calls have been given additional incentive with a Federal Communications Commission order that all cell phone service companies have location programs in place by the year 2001.
"In this country, we should not talk about 40-hour response times," says Tom Wheeler of the Cellular Telephone Association. "We should be talking about minutes."
New Jersey is testing such a tracking program on 50 troublesome miles of state highway. It was demonstrated to reporters by the cellular phone company ComCast, and the program's developer The Associated Group.
Location determined by triangulation
The system locates the source location of cellular calls by determining how long it takes a call to reach each of three cell sites, then triangulates the location. That information appears on a map in front of the 911 dispatcher.
"I think this is going to be great," says one dispatcher.
Cellular phones have been a blessing for thousands of people, including an Alabama woman who was abducted and locked in trunk of her car. Although she had her cellular phone with her, she couldn't tell authorities where she was, and it took two hours for police to find her.
But the increased number of calls made possible by cell phones has also been a problem.
"It takes us much longer to process these calls," says Robert Mill of New Jersey 911 Services. "The people don't know where they are!"
Locating cell phone callers requires antennas which many communities have opposed or restricted. In presenting a program that claims to increase public safety, the cellular phone industry hopes to win some compromise on the issue.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
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