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9-1-1 History, NG9-1-1 and Future Direction Whitepaper

Need help? Call 9-1-1 – But will they find you in time?

In an emergency we have an expectation that when we call 9-1-1, first responders will quickly be on the scene to assist. Unfortunately, the reality of 9-1-1 can be complicated and more disconcerting than this. Sometimes the truth hurts and in the case of what is happening in Canada and the U.S. today…there is reason to be concerned. People are dying unnecessarily!

Background of 9-1-1

Before the introduction of 9-1-1 there was no single number for people to call in an emergency. Callers had to know the phone number for each department in the area they were in. In the case of large cities there were often multiple police and fire departments. Telephone operators were usually left to direct emergency calls if the caller wasn’t sure which department or phone number they needed. Being put on-hold was not unusual. In 1957 the National Fire Chiefs Association suggested a national emergency phone number. It wasn’t until 1967 that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice suggested that a single telephone number should be designated for emergency use nationwide. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) partnered with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) in late 1967 to figure out what the number should be. In 1968 AT&T recommended that the numbers 9-1-1 should make up the new universal emergency number.

Great Britain was the first country to establish a universal emergency number (999) in 1937. It came after five people died in a fire.[1] Europe uses 112 as its emergency number.

Why 9-1-1?

At the time 9-1-1 was selected, old-style rotary/pulse-dialing phones were still popular. The touch-tone phone was introduced in 1963 but took decades to completely replace the rotary phone. 9-1-1 was short, easy to remember, and can be dialed relatively quickly. With only three digits, the number could also be easily distinguished from other normal numbers in the AT&T internal system thus making it cost effective as few system changes would be required.[2] Congress supported the AT&T recommendation and passed the legislation to support it.

Many telephone companies needed to update their equipment to handle the new 9-1-1 service. Congress recognized this and created the Bell System Policy. The policy merged the costs of improvements into the basic rates that telephone companies charged their customers.

The first 9-1-1 call was completed in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 and in the early 1970s cities were adopting the number universally. The 9-1-1 telephone networks were designed to carry voice calls from one location to another.

Services were regionalized, and the local phone company managed the entire infrastructure from end to end. People had landlines and the service worked well because one location was attached to that landline.

It took a long time for the 9-1-1 system to be available to everyone. Ten years after Congress established 9-1-1 only 26 percent of US citizens could dial 9-1-1 and be connected with their local emergency services. Twenty-five years later, 1989, that number had risen to only 50 percent however, by 1999 that number was at 93 percent and today it is at 99 percent.

In Canada 9-1-1 was introduced in 1972 and as of 2018 virtually all areas, except for some rural northern areas, are using 9-1-1.

When the 9-1-1 system was introduced, it was based on location routing on the telephone number the person was calling from. This proved to be a poor system because municipal boundaries and telephone exchange boundaries aren’t the same. This led some calls to be misrouted and lives to be lost. To fix this problem, Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) was introduced based on addresses. This worked well until cell phones became popular.

In the subsequent years, technology advanced and people moved away from landlines. Today over 85 percent of 9-1-1 calls are placed from wireless phones and this percentage is growing.[3] For many people, the ability to get help in an emergency is one of the main reasons they own a wireless phone. However, today’s cellphone system does not automatically send location data when you dial 9-1-1.

When you dial 9-1-1 from your cell phone, it does not automatically track your wireless location. It may take several seconds or even minutes for the dispatch to be able to track your location.


After the call comes in, the dispatcher’s computer transmits a digital request to the cellphone network seeking the phone’s location. This exchange of data can take seconds or minutes. Sometimes, it doesn’t return a location at all. If the system can’t locate the device, the carrier systems will use nearby towers to estimate the location. Often, 9-1-1 calls end before the specific location is provided for emergency responders.

Impact on lives and why doesn’t it work

It is estimated that 10,000 lives could be saved in the US alone with better cellphone location information.

Unfortunately, we cannot provide you with specific Canadian information due to the fact that we have not consolidated source data across municipalities or provinces, let alone a national view!

If you are like me you probably said, ‘but wait …my mobile phone has GPS, what is the problem?’ Since wireless phones are mobile, they are not associated with one fixed location or address …like the landline was.

While the location of the cell site closest to the 9-1-1 caller may provide a general indication of the caller’s location, that information is not always specific enough for rescue personnel to deliver assistance to the caller quickly. Often the cell tower is anywhere from 15 to 30 km away from where you are actually located.

Challenges with the current telecom network

What callers don’t realize is that they are dialing on an antiquated emergency telephone network. The system used to locate cell phone calls is 20 years old, designed long before smart phones or GPS. As hard as it is to believe, other than adding Automatic Location Identification (ALI) to the number identification, the 9-1-1 systems have not been overhauled since the 1970s!

A simple way to explain it: When you call 9-1-1 from your cellphone, the dispatcher does not see your actual location. Instead, dispatch centres have to ask your wireless carrier for your location information. The location information comes from a cell tower, which could put you kilometers away from where you actually are.

Popular communication tools like text, video and chat, which are now part of our every-day lives, will not work over the legacy 9-1-1 environment. With text we are not even talking about accuracy …no location data is delivered to the 9-1-1 centres.

Challenges for next generation devices

To recap, there are several major deficiencies with 9-1-1 services today – location accuracy, situational awareness, and misroutes.

Location information provided by smartphones is not accurate enough for emergency situations. The first challenge is that the tower information may be kilometers from your actual physical location. Another challenge is that information passed on to 9-1-1 centres can vary depending upon the carrier.

If your GPS (X and Y co-ordinates) are provided you may still not be found if you are in a building with multiple floors. WHY? There is no way of telling where within the structure the call is coming from. This is called the Z axis and it is another one of the missing ingredients in the puzzle.

Situational awareness refers to the type of information the 9-1-1 responder needs about the nature and severity of an incident before they arrive on the scene so that they can speed response times and enhances outcomes. One very relevant and real example is the July 2015 explosion at the Runxing chemical plant in Tianjin, China where 67 firefighters died and another 37 are missing; while 11 policemen died or are missing. [4]

This the worst disaster for first responders in recent Chinese history. In this incident it is believed that the firefighters used water to douse the flames. They did not know that the chemical onsite was calcium carbide, which reacts with water to create highly explosive acetylene.[5]

Another common problem is that calls ‘misroute’. This typically happens when a caller calls 9-1-1 from one jurisdiction, but the call goes into another because of the location of the cell tower.[6]

This happened with tragic consequences in Atlanta in December 2014 when Shanell Anderson was calling when she was off the road. Shanell knew the cross streets, even the ZIP code. She called 9-1-1 and repeated her location over and over, but it didn’t help.

Her call was routed through the nearest cellphone tower to a neighboring county’s 9-1-1 system. The dispatcher couldn’t find the streets on her map. Worse yet, the system couldn’t get a fix on the cellphone’s location before the call ended. It took 20 minutes for rescuers to get to Anderson. She died a week and a half later in hospital. [7]

Tips for Calling 9-1-1 with a Mobile

- Tell the emergency operator the location of the emergency right away.

- Provide the emergency operator with your wireless phone number, so if the call gets disconnected, the emergency operator can call you back.

People watch TV and they believe that first responders can easily locate them – unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Can This Be True?

In studies conducted by USA Today, more than 40 Gannett newspapers and television stations in 2015 looked at 9-1-1 call records from seven large states as well as many additional cities between 2010 and 2014.

Here are some of the results:[8]

  • In California in 2014, 12.4 million, or 63 percent of California’s cellphone calls to 9-1-1 didn’t share location.

  • In Colorado, 42 percent of the 5.8 million cellphone-to-9-1-1 calls didn’t transmit location information – meaning 58 percent did!

  • In Fairfax County, Virginia outside Washington, D.C. 25 percent of cellphone calls included precise location data in 2014; 75 percent did not!

Note: The FCC doesn’t collect data, and neither do some of the 9-1-1 centres. This makes it difficult to look at consistent statistics from state to state. The same thing applies for the CRTC and our provinces and territories!

Why has the 9-1-1 network technology fallen so far behind?

The simple answer is money. It takes a lot of money to upgrade national systems and have them work together so that tragedies like Shanell Anderson don’t repeat.

Uber and Door Dash know where I am!

The big question remains – if Uber and delivery services like Door Dash can find me why can’t the police, fire, and ambulance services? It is because these and similar apps use location sharing. When you download the app, you choose to give them access to your GPS, and they pull your location using the internet and Wi-Fi. 9-1-1 centres don’t have that technology.

Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1)

NG9-1-1 represents the technology, processes and capability needed to update emergency networks. While the tools sitting on top of the 9-1-1 network have been updated throughout the years, the fundamental core technology – analog based, 1970s phone switching – has not.

Next Generation 9-1-1 technology solutions will be able to handle the additional information smartphones contain, as well as IP telephones, text messaging, video, and online chat. There are a few exceptions to this situation such as the state of Colorado which has rolled out IP delivery of text-to-9-1-1 calls over an IP network and where they also deliver the centroid (mathematical centre) of the cell sector.[9]

Is the situation the same Around the World?

In other parts of the world such as Australia, New Zealand, and Europe they have project teams looking at the design, testing and implementation of NG services. To date most countries are at the design and testing phase similar to Canada.

So, when will NG9-1-1 be implemented in the US and Canada?

By 2021 the FCC wants all carriers to provide 9-1-1 centres with Phase II dispatchable location information on 80 percent of all calls. This still means that one-out-of-every five calls in 2021 won’t be able to provide 9-1-1 operators with accurate location information. Several US states have active NG9-1-1 projects and some, such as Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota have already implemented.

In Canada NG9-1-1 promises the ability to transfer calls, messages, and data, like pictures or video, between any interconnected NG9-1-1 systems or responder communication system anywhere in the country or beyond. It’s about the ability to share data and become interoperable with other systems. It’s about more efficiently responding to life and death situations.[10]

The CRTC regulates the provision of telecommunication services by Telecommunications Service Providers (TSPs). In the 9-1-1 contexts, the Commission’s role is to exercise regulatory oversight over the telecommunications access provided by Telecommunications Service Providers to enable Canadians to contact 9-1-1 call centres, also known as public safety answering points (PSAPs).

In 2010 the CRTC formed an Emergency Services Working Group (ESWG)[11] to follow and report on the progress of Next Generation 9-1-1 in Canada. In 2015-16 the CRTC conducted a comprehensive examination of NG9-1-1 services, which included the establishment of the regulatory framework for implementing NG9-1-1 and the acceptance of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) i3 standard as the baseline reference architecture. [12] This group continues to define standards and champion NG9-1-1 work in Canada.

Note: In Canada, the TSPs would be organizations such as Bell Canada, TELUS, Bell Mobility, TELUS Mobility, Rogers, Bell Aliant, etc.[13]

What is the current timeline for Canada?

Due to the current COVID-10 pandemic the timelines for NG9-1-1 implementation have been updated by the CRTC from June 2021 to March 2024. It normally takes 2-3 years to go through a VoIP and UC&C implementation, and this will have many of the same components. This should be your planning horizon for NG9-1-1. The revised timeline will therefore provide time for PSAPs to budget, prepare for the transition and implement the new environment.

Will it be Easy?

The ESWG has acknowledged that designing and introducing NG9-1-1 services and transitioning the current E9-1-1 infrastructure, will be a daunting task requiring rigorous and professional project-based management, planning and structure. [14]

Why is Ontario so far behind?

We are all paying monthly fees to our various telecom providers (wired and wireless) to have safe, reliable 9-1-1 support, and yet in Ontario these fees are not being allocated to upgrading the provider networks to be able to automatically consolidate information to enable emergency responders to find and respond with the least amount of time and effort.

Call to Action

We at FOX 9-1-1 Tech Advisors believe that now is the time to join together and put our voices forward to get our various government departments and vendors to ‘wake up, pay attention!’ to NG9-1-1!

As a large, distributed mobile economy, it is critical that we have the ability to have appropriate technologies network together to enable us, as Canadians, to have timely, accurate 9-1-1 support from the various government bodies that help us when emergencies happen. Funding for 9-1-1 services should be consistent across Canada.

About 9-1-1 Tech Advisors

Our Experienced 9-1-1 Technology Team

Each of our experienced telecom, network and unified communication technology professionals have designed, installed and managed complex communications technology solutions for at least twenty years.

We bring a combined total of two hundred and fifty-three years (253) of collective experience to ensure we help you design and select the right next generation 9-1-1 technology solution from the right vendors. (yes, really 253 years!)

Contact 9-1-1 Tech Advisors:

Roberta J. Fox-Lawson, Chief Innovation Officer

9-1-1 Tech Advisors, div. of FOX GROUP Technology

E: | T: 289.648.1981


[1] Source:

[2] Source:

[3] Source: Federal Communications Commission:

[4] Source:

[5] Source:

[6] Source:

[7] Source:

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[9] Source:

[10] Source:

[11] Source:

[12] Source: 4-342.htm

[13] Read the CRTC Action Plan ( and three year plan 2014-2017 (


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