Archive for Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Cell phones presenting problems for emergency services

October 9, 2002

A Kansas City, Kan., man was injured recently and had become unaware of his surroundings.

Using a cellular phone, the man called 911, but emergency service workers were unable to locate him because the signal went back to the carrier tower.

Eventually, the man was located by helicopter. However, hours had passed between the time of the man's call and emergency workers finding him.

The case is just one example of a growing problem emergency services have in keeping up with fast changing technology, said Chuck Magaha, Leavenworth County Emergency Management director.

In Leavenworth County, 40 percent of 911 calls come from cell phones. And since cell phones are becoming more prevalent, the volume of calls has increased, Magaha said.

"You might get one (landline) call and 30 others using a cell phone," Magaha said.

In addition to overloading the 911 answering system, the growing number of 911 calls from cell phones has created funding problems for counties and emergency management offices.

A landline 911 call is billed at 75 cents per call.

However, there currently is no way to bill either the caller or carrier for a 911 cell phone call.

"The need has gone up as far as what we need when a person dials 911," Magaha said. "The funding has not."

"Without additional funding we'll be losing out because of (less funds for) upkeep and maintenance," he added.

Magaha said solutions to the 911 funding problem include instituting a flat tax across the county for landline users, charge the cell phone users or the cell phone carriers.

Taxing landline and cell phone users isn't the preferred option because many people have both cell and home phones, meaning they would be taxed twice, Magaha said.

"That's not the way we want to go," he said. "That would be a last-ditch effort."

The ideal place for a remedy to the cell phone problem would be either the carriers themselves or the Kansas Legislature, said Joe Daniels, Leavenworth County Commission member.

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