Virginia based company may have key to 911 deadly disconnect

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(WRIC) — It’s a  potentially fatal flaw 8News has been reporting on for more than a year now., 911 dispatchers don’t always know where you are when you call from a cell phone.

The deadly disconnect played out in a frantic call to 9-1-1 from a woman in Georgia who slid off the road and was sinking into a pond.

The Dispatcher is heard saying,  “911,  What is the address of the emergency”  The woman responds, “I am in a car in a lake!”  The dispatcher asks, “Where? Give me the address again, it’s not working.”

The 911 dispatcher can’t locate her on their map and she dies.

Last month at the home of singer Prince transcripts show during the 911 the dispatcher pleads with the caller, “Does anybody know the address?”

Too often when you dial 911 from a cell phone, the 911 system picks up the address for the nearest cell tower not your actual location.

8News saw the problem play out in Dinwiddie last year when we made a call from inside the 911 center but that’s not the address that popped up.  Instead, the 911 system picked up a cell tower about six miles from the 911 center on Courthouse Road.

An estimated 70 to 80 percent of all 911 calls come from a cell phone.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates 10,000 lives a year could be saved if location accuracy was improved.

Minh Tran, Safety Now Solution founder, says a delay in response time could lead to a death.  His company, located in Northern Virginia, is one of the several private tech companies to submit a possible fix to the FCC.

“GPS is a great technology but unfortunately, it’s not perfect,” Tran said

The free 911 Help SMS app bypasses GPS on your phone and uses a wifi router to pinpoint your address.

“Basically, the screen gives you a map to let you know where you are and on the upper right is a text to 911,” Tran explained “If you text, it will type everything out for you.”

The app will then send a message saying you need help to dispatchers even family members.https://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/911/Apps%20Wrkshp%202015/911_Help_SMS_WhitePaper0515.pdf

He’s created an app. Iphone version:https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id798026644?mt=8

Droid version:https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cabmatch.help911&hl=en

8News returned to the Dinwiddie 911 Center to put the app to the test.

It worked. The exact address for the center popped up for dispatchers when we did a test text.

On the downside..right now the app only works in areas where text 911 is accepted. Yet Tran says if 911 centers were to sign up for app the technology could be expanded to all calls . He says it could even go a step further providing dispatchers with something no 911 center in the country can do right now, pinpoint the floor of the building even the room number the caller is dialing from.

“We want to store everything in a bar code,” explains Tran.

8News tried it out.

“It just took a quick picture, scanned it and there’s the floor level, room number,” demonstrates Tran.

Critical information for locating someone call for help from a high rise, mall or school.

“Most buildings have exit plans,” Tran says. “You can easily put this barcode above the exit plan,”

The app also has a lot of other general safety features.

It can store photos, floor plans of your home and medical information like allergies. “Your doctor’s information, age, weight, height,” adds Tran.

All of which can give first responders critical information about a caller before they even arrive on scene.

The app also has a feature that can let loved ones track you on a jog in the woods or walk to school.

8News reached out to the agency that oversees 911 operations in Virginia. They tell 8News they’re cautious about any application that adds an extra step to the 911 process but in Dinwiddie they see potential.

Denice Crowder, Communication Director for Dinwiddie County Fire and EMS says, “I like the app a lot it’s fairly accurate. It gets us a little closer than the we are getting now,”

The FCC has established a task force to study this app and other submissions but no one knows when the agency will approve a plan.Find 8News on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.

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