In a July 25, 2014 filing with the FCC, Nneka Ezenwa Chiazor, Verizon’s Executive Director, Federal Regulatory Affairs, pushed back against dismal reports about Verizon’s 911 call location accuracy. On July 10 of this year, the Washington Post and FindME911, a coalition of private groups and individuals advocating for the availability of accurate emergency location based services, both reported that 9 out of 10 wireless 911 calls did not contain caller longitude and latitude information needed for an accurate 911 response. Lack of this information can often result in first responders failing to locate individuals needing emergency services in a timely manner. The data in question was made available through a Freedom of Information Act request and provided by the Office of Unified Communications from the District of Columbia, and covered a 6-month period.
The report from the Office of Unified Communications indicates that, during the period in question, 13,899 Verizon Wireless 911 calls were received in the District, and of those, only 3,414 or about 25% included detailed location specific information, known as Phase II data. Phase I data is composed of information for cell tower and sector location only, and refers to a general geographic area. In contrast, Phase II data consists of the specific longitude and latitude of the caller.
According to the Verizon filing, when a 911 call is initiated, it can take an average of 11 seconds for the Phase II data to become available, and no longer than 20 seconds for most calls to be correctly pinpointed. During that first 20 seconds or so, Phase I information may be the only thing available to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) or a 9-1-1 call center. In most cases, Verizon and many other carriers recommend that PSAPs should initiate an additional retrieval process within the first 20-30 seconds after a call is received, and then continue to do so at regular intervals after that until Phase II information becomes available.
Upon hearing of the data released on July 10, Verizon undertook their own internal auditing, and they report that Phase II information was available for about 84% of 911 calls in the District of Columbia, and that Phase I information alone was only available 16% of the time, not the 75% reported by FindME911. They insist that in the District of Columbia, the follow-up retrieval process was only performed 2% of the time during the period in question. Verizon conceded in the filing that there may be legitimate reasons for a PSAP to choose not to initiate a follow-up retrieval, but insist that failure to initiate the retrieval process should not be held against the carrier when assessing their ability to provide accurate location data.