Tragedies have occurred in the United States because 911 centers have trouble locating cellphone users.
Most 911 call centers can locate landline callers, because the 911 system was developed before cell phone technology was widely available.
When a cell phone user calls from outside of a home or building, the GPS chip in the phone connects with satellites or cell towers, and the 911 operator can usually locate the person within about 160 feet. But, when a call is made from inside of a building, it is harder for the GPS to connect with a satellite, and the individual’s location is harder to pin down.
In addition, there are certain broadband technologies that register cell phones to a specific address. In those cases, even if the cell phone user moves to a new home, a call to 911 would still locate to the individual’s prior home, even if it is in a different city from where the call was placed.
Google is working on a project to improve cell phone location for 911 call centers, using a mobile network that provides more accurate location information. The mobile network will automatically activate when the user calls 911.
Google’s new system has already been successfully used in other countries including Austria, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Google is also working on providing 911 texting.