GPS to Aid 911 Operators in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Global Positioning System technology will be in use by this fall to help 911 operators pinpoint emergency calls to within feet in Providence and several surrounding cities.

Currently, the best rescuers can do with a 911 call is locate the general area where the call is coming from, and must rely on callers for more specific information of their whereabouts. The GPS satellite system is accurate enough to locate callers within three feet, according to The Providence Journal.

Crews are busy mapping 58,000 sites, including waterways, all buildings and fire hydrants. The goal is to assemble the database needed to pinpoint any distress calls. All the information will be incorporated into the state's 911 system and displayed on a digital map at the operator's console, helping the operator direct rescuers to the caller's location.

The service also will be installed in Central Falls, Cranston, Pawtucket and Warwick.

GPS technology already is in use in Exeter, Glocester, Middletown, Newport, North Providence, South Kingstown, and Tiverton.

The system works with hard-wired phones and wireless phones equipped with GPS. By December 2005, wireless carriers must be GPS equipped, according to Raymond LaBelle, the executive director of the state's 911 emergency telephone system.

Last year, there were 536,000 calls placed through 911 in Rhode Island, he said. Fifty-three percent were made by cell phones, he added.

The project is estimated to cost $4 million for the entire state, paid for by E-911 surcharges on phones. The state currently charges $1 per month on wireless and traditional phone lines. Gov. Don Carcieri's proposed budget for 2005 would raise the E-911 surcharge on wireless phone users by 26 cents, partly to pay for this mapping plan.