Belated enhanced 911 system will aid in rescue efforts
An enhanced 911 system to locate cellular phones used in emergency calls is scheduled to begin this week on Oahu.
CELL phone technology is credited with the rescue of three members of the Kim family in Oregon last week and a motorist pinned underneath his car after falling off a road on Maui earlier this year. Finally, the technology enabling search and rescue teams to locate callers is to go into operation on Oahu this week
and on Kauai and the Big Island next year.
When the state Legislature enacted a law allowing wireless carriers to begin adding 66 cents to their monthly bills to pay for the enhanced 911, or e911, services, Hawaii already was among the last states to approve such a program. The Federal Communications Commission had required seven years ago that carriers upgrade their equipment by the end of 2005.
Hawaii's clumsy law required counties to have the services in place before being reimbursed by the state for their cost. Counties had to engage in lengthy and sometimes creative processes to find their way. The bureaucratic delays were inexcusable and should not be repeated in future legislation.
A signal sent by a family's mobile phone led to the detection of Kati Kim and her two children in the mountains of southern Oregon two days before husband and father James Kim's body was found. Maui police Lt. Tivoli Faaumu told the Star-Bulletin's Alexandre Da Silva that authorities recently were able to find and save the life of a driver whose car had fallen 30 feet off a road in Haiku.
The system enables the wireless service provider to locate a cell phone through triangulation data collected from a network of cellular receiving towers and modern mapping technology. Gordon Bruce, director of the city Department of Information Technology, says cell phone towers are planned on popular hiking trails and other remote areas.
Installation of new wiring and equipment is to be completed at the Honolulu Police Department's downtown dispatch center in time for the tracking system to begin on Friday, according to Bruce. Mobi PCS will be the first wireless carrier to join the system, followed by other carriers, including Sprint and Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon and Cingular during next year's first quarter.
Some opposition to the system has emerged because of privacy concerns. However, the system is unlikely to produce any Orwellian scenario. Cellular networks should restrict use of the triangulation method to situations in which the caller has dialed 911, and the phone's location should be tracked only in emergencies.
More than 120 million subscribers in the United States, including 900,000 in Hawaii, have made cell phones a fixture in Americans' everyday lives. Although the new technology allows a cell phone to be tracked within several hundred feet, privacy issues should be little different from search and rescue teams being able to locate an emergency reported to 911 from a traditional landline phone.
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