WASHINGTON -- Half of the emergency 911 centers still will not be able to track cell calls by next year's deadline for wireless companies to outfit their phones with locator technology, according to a group that represents call center administrators.
State and local governments would have to more than double their annual spending to $1.7 billion to meet the deadline, the National Emergency Number Association said in a report yesterday. That is an unlikely prospect given the budget shortfalls facing many local governments.
"The reality is there's never going to be enough money to all the things we need to do," said Jeff Arnold, deputy legislative director for the National Association of Counties. "It is a priority. It's just a function of having available dollars to make it happen. The money just isn't there."
When someone calls 911 from a regular home or business phone, the address automatically is displayed on the screen of one of 6,000 call centers. But a traditional cellphone cannot be tracked.
The government told wireless carriers in 1996 to install technology that can find callers within 100 yards of their location.
The companies must either use a global positioning device in 95 percent of their phones by Dec. 31, 2005, or install technology that automatically locates a caller based on the distance and direction from the phone to the tower transmitting the call. That network-based technology must be completely installed within 18 months after local public safety authorities request it.
The wireless companies will meet the deadline, but the call center association said only 50 percent of the centers will have the enhanced 911 technology to locate the wireless caller. Only about 1,100, or 18 percent, of call centers have the technology today.
"It was shocking to find the level of readiness to be where it is," said a former association president, John Melcher, who is deputy director of the Harris County, Texas, 911 Emergency Network. "We need more resources and more action at the state and local level."
The association's findings mirror a December report of the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO said fewer than half of the 50 states reported they will have full enhanced 911 systems by 2005.