18 April, 2017 23:04

Uber can find you faster than 911 call centers, John Oliver says

"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" explains how ineffective calling 911 can be due to underfunding, lack of personnel and outdated technology.

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John Oliver revealed how bad the 911 emergency service has become on his news comedy show "Last Week Tonight" on Sunday.

Oliver blames people who call 911 for non-emergency situations or butt-dial the number for distracting dispatchers from actual dangerous situations. But the real problem with 911 happens when the dispatchers can’t pinpoint where emergency calls are coming from.

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According to an FCC report in 2014 that Oliver cites, location accuracy improvements could save over 10,000 lives yearly. But since 70 to 80 percent of 911 calls come from cell phones, the location information dispatchers get varies widely according to wireless service provider.

Shockingly, Oliver used footage from an NBC News special where a reporter called 911 from inside an emergency call center from his phone, and the dispatcher still got the location wrong.

But advanced locator technology already exists on phones. Users can check into Facebook at an exact address, order food through delivery apps and get picked up by Uber at the right address, so why can’t 911 call centers figure out where we’re calling from on our smartphones?

911google.jpgEnlarge Image

John Oliver urged viewers to google "understaffed 911 dispatch" and their town’s name to see what comes up.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

"Uber can find you better than ambulances can," Oliver said in the video. "While the wireless industry does claim to be working toward incorporating some of what Uber uses into 911 location services, it seems there is no guarantee when that will be ready for widespread use."

The FCC has mandated that wireless carriers improve accuracy by 2021, but that won’t make much of a difference if many 911 call centers are underfunded and severely understaffed.

Staffing problems continue to plague 911 emergency call centers, Oliver points out, which means that when you dial 911, the first voice you hear might be an automated response message while you wait on hold.

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And you know that 911 service fee on all your phone bills? That money doesn’t always go to help fund 911 call centers to hire more staff or update their technology. Oliver discovered that many states divert those much-needed dollars elsewhere.

To help the next generation stop taking 911 for granted, "Last Week Tonight" made a parody PSA for children on the realities of 911 emergency call center limitations.

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18 April, 2017 23:04

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