VIEWPOINT

A popular reason to carry a cellular phone is personal safety, yet a main complaint from both cellular users and emergency assistance providers is lack of cellular “locatability.”

When a person dials 911 from a landline phone, emergency services are able to place the call and call the location back if necessary. Not so with wireless emergency calls.

As our reporter Linda Sakelaris describes in her focus on Global Positioning System technology in this issue, GPS is being used in transportation venues for dispatch monitoring of vehicles-including emergency vehicle dispatch applications. That is great for emergency services but what about the person needing assistance who may be calling from a cellular phone and cannot be located?

One source for our GPS focus described a cellular 911 call where a handicapped person was stalled in his vehicle on a train track and the train was coming. The person frantically tried to describe where he was but 911 could not locate him quickly enough and could do nothing but listen on the line as the vehicle was hit by the train.

If GPS and cellular technologies were merged in a consumer product, these types of tragedies possibly could be avoided. The combined technology does exist and emergency services groups are asking the wireless community to help find ways to implement it.

Ford Motor Co. is working on an option called the Remote Emergency Satellite Center Unit. A motorist with a RESCU-equipped vehicle would push one of two buttons on an overhead console-one to call a tow-truck, the other to call an ambulance. The vehicle’s location is then determined by a GPS receiver and transmitted via cellular phone to a response center.

Ford said such an option would cost the customer about $1,300 over four years and believes the price is in a range consumers are willing to pay.

Many police, fire and ambulance departments are using GPS for dispatch and monitoring with fantastic results. In the Denver Regional Transportation District, each bus is equipped with a GPS receiver, a radio and an on-board computer system. Applications include passenger and driver safety monitoring, providing up-to-the-minute time of arrival information and dispatching immediate response to buses in trouble, for instance accidents or flat tires.

Denver Police last year took advantage of RTD’s GPS system when two teenage suspects who had just shot an employee at a fast-food restaurant fled the scene to an RTD bus after their car wouldn’t start. Witnesses reported the bus number to police and the dispatch center was able to track its location. When the bus arrived at its last stop, the bus station, four police units were there waiting for the suspects.

Technology to the rescue.

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