State of 9–1–1

Since we (millennials) were kids, we’ve been spoon-fed with instructions from our parents, lectures from our teachers, and subtle messaging in the content we consume embedding the dialing of 9–1–1 into our domestic survival instincts. And this made sense, because as long as we dialed those 3 numbers, help was on its way. However, the technology we use to communicate has drastically changed since then— making this an antiquated assumption.

9–1–1 was built on a landline infrastructure. Meaning if you dialed from your house phone or any other hardline, they could pinpoint where you were without you needing to speak and relay this information to the first responders dispatched. It worked extremely well. Yet, the era of the landline is over — with more than 70% of the 240M+ calls placed to 9–1–1 last year coming from smartphones.

You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” And we’re here to share with you exactly why this is worth your attention and why you should pass it on to others. If you think authorities are able to pinpoint your location when you dial 9–1–1 from your smartphone, you’re not alone. Most people believe it works the same as if you were calling for help from your landline. The reality is, it’s not even close.

If you’re unable to speak when you dial 9–1–1 or have to hang up, the best they can do is attempt to triangulate your location. This process can take up to 6 minutes (or more) and it provides a location reading with 300 meter accuracy. To put it into perspective, 300 meters is almost 3 football fields! Which is why operators’ need to speak with you so they can extract as much information as possible while you’re on the line, they might even ask you to stay on the phone until help arrives. Why is this? Because they use all of the information you provide to locate you, figure out who you are, and better inform first responders of the situation.

But let’s expose the problem — think of a few situations right now where you’d want help to get to you ASAP. Would you be able to use the phone in those instances? Many of the situations coming to mind are likely after an incident has occurred, but what happens when you find yourself in the midst of one? Think about the difference between coming home to your jewelry missing vs. being in your house when someone tries to break in to steal it. Would you want to be talking on the phone or trying to get somewhere safe? This is where our current emergency response system faces challenges.

We live in a world where we can get practically everything at the push of a button, but when it comes to getting help in a time where we need it most, we’re expected to pick up a phone, dial 9–1–1, and stay on the line. Which begs the question, why aren’t we talking about this? John Oliver recently did a segment on this topic, and almost instantly — all our families and friends finally understood what we do here at SafeTrek. Up until his segment, these problems have gone without coverage or exposure to the public — despite their relevance to all. If you have some time, we recommend watching John’s segment below.

You’re probably wondering why 9–1–1 hasn’t ‘upgraded’ — the answer might have something to do with only 9% of 9–1–1’s $2.2B in funding being spent on new technology. Seems disproportionate considering 70% of their incoming calls originated from technology they classify as ‘new’. And as with most government funded entities, it is always more complicated than it seems on the surface.

Although 9–1–1 lives under the FCC’s umbrella, each state operates its own services, giving each state varying levels of control over spending in this department. And it’s hard to reallocate funds when the system barely can operate on what it has today. As landlines have faded so has the money coming in from surcharges the FCC agreed to with the carriers many years ago. And they haven’t been able to negotiate a surcharge for wireless devices to makeup for this difference (example: New York collects a $1 surcharge for each landline and only .30 cents for mobile devices). In addition, it doesn’t seem the FCC has been able to provide enough money to 9–1–1 in order to bridge the gap for the loss of money from surcharges.

After combing through a few of the Annual Reports, we found they were missing two critical pieces of reporting for any entity needing money: a) what is achieved with current funds b) what could be accomplished with additional funds. And this requires a set of baseline metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the system in place. Even the most basic of metrics such as response time goes without being tracked (or at least offered as public record) for the most part.

Which got us thinking, what other metrics should they be tracking and making available to the public?

Response time is a given, but what about how many of the 240M calls were resolved? One step further, how satisfied were the individuals utilizing our system and interacting with our first responders? This information is not only useful to demonstrate efficient use of current funds and justify more, but also could identify challenges and solutions in a time where disparities between the public and our front line continue to surface. What better time then right now to take steps towards overhauling how we measure and make decisions? Over the next several weeks, we will be publishing 3 articles ideating the potential of a system tracking 3 metrics: Resolution %, ‘Customer’ Satisfaction, and Response Time. In each of these pieces, we’ll discuss ways we could begin to collect this data and its potential use cases in our communities, cities, and country.

Lastly, we want to end on this note: If you are in an emergency or a bystander and are ABLE to talk on the phone, please call 9–1–1. It still is the best way to give authorities the most information possible. The purpose of this article is to inform you so you can make the best decision for you or someone else’s safety based on the situation.

And if you’re interested in seeing how SafeTrek is solving the problems 9–1–1 is faced with, visit our website, or drop us a line at