Mobile triple-0 callers off the map
Mobile phones only provide a billing address to emergency services. Photo: Louise Kennerley
A FAILURE by mobile phone carriers to provide instant call-location details to emergency services is causing delays in triple-0 responses, according to local authorities.
''We don't want to find ourselves in a situation where someone dies because we are not able to locate them,'' Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority general manager Andrew Wellwood said.
He said while landline calls provided an instant location to triple-0 operators, mobile phones provided only the billing address. He said ESTA now received more than a million mobile calls a year, more than 50 per cent of the total traffic.
Mr Wellwood said while some trials were likely in Australia, the phone companies appeared to be resisting change. ''The sooner this is introduced, the better off the community will be,'' he said. ''The process has been far too slow.
''We have more than 3000 calls from mobiles every day. We need this to happen.''
ESTA chief executive Ken Shymanski said US and Canadian carriers had for years been required to provide location data to emergency services.
He said Canada introduced automatic phone location software after a man died when caught in a blizzard, despite making four calls for help from his mobile.
''Without a location he couldn't be found and he froze to death. In bushfires and maritime emergencies, precision locations save lives,'' he said.
Mr Shymanski said the average call from a mobile took 20 seconds longer than from a landline because operators had to repeatedly ask location details from distressed callers.
''People become frustrated when we repeatedly ask, 'where are you', but we can't help if we don't know.
''We have calls from tourists who don't know where they are, people who can't speak English and distressed children. The technology exists and is used widely overseas.''
Late last week ESTA received several reports of grass fires from callers who could not provide exact locations as they were visitors to the areas.
''Mobile carriers are not likely to invest in the technology when they will not see a return. The regulators need to say 'I don't care, just do it','' Mr Shymanski said.
John Stanton, the chief executive of the industry representative group, Communications Alliance, said mobile carriers were committed to developing an effective system.
''We are fair dinkum about it,'' he said.
''We have to be absolutely sure that we get it right and the final solution doesn't compromise triple-0 services.''
He said an interim program being used meant emergency
services could ask for location details from providers on individual mobile calls - a method that helped find two survivors of a car accident near Broken Hill last November.
Mr Stanton said he expected a permanent automated system to be operating by the end the year.
However, ESTA officials say the proposed solution relies on a calibration from existing phone towers rather than the more accurate smartphone technology.
''It is no good to us if it gets us within a few blocks in a city. Near enough is not good enough,'' one said.