JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Mississippians have had taxes imposed, to the tune of millions of dollars, on their home phone bills and cell phone bills. Why? So your local government has money to set up Enhanced 911 emergency service from cell phones. Are you getting your monies worth? You'll be surprised at our findings.
At the end of 2005, all cell phone carriers were required to provide the ability to trace cell phone calls to a location within 100 meters or less. To comply with FCC requirements, cell phone carriers decided to integrate GPS technology into cell phone handsets, rather than overhaul the tower network.
However the GPS in most cell it's a matter of homeland security. A matter of life and death. And it can depend on who can track your cell phone via GPS technology when you dial 911. In Rankin County the E911 Director said, "If you dial 911 and you are not able to speak, we would still be able to find you via GPS."
A matter mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. WLBT posed this question. "What kind of difference does it make? It saves lives, it saves lots of lives." It's called enhanced 911. Rescuers can track find your exact location. If your phone is not GPS equipped they can still track you down to within half a football field. "911 where do you need the police?
Take a close look at your home phone bill, your cell phone bill. You are levied a tax on your home phone bill and your cell phone bill, to make sure you get help fast. Rankin County has met all E911 requirements. They have upgraded to Phase 2 using GPS tracking on computers. "In Rankin county we use that money to upgrade the system and continually upgrade the system."
Madison County is Phase 2 compliant as well. Butch Hammack, the Emergency Operations Director explained, "If you are in Madison county and you dial 911 from your cell phone..it's going to give the location of where you are on a map, it's also going to give your cell phone number and your name."
In an emergency when seconds count, you dial for help from your cell phone. Will a computer system send first responders to your rescue, or not? Our investigation revealed Jackson and Hinds County use an antiquated system. We put it to a test? "I'm in downtown Jackson so let's see what happens when I dial 911 from my cell phone." The Jackson operator asked, "911 where do you need the police?" I responded, "can you tell me where I am. This is a test of your e911 system. She replied, "You are on Pascagoula Street next to Thalia Mara Hall. "No, actually I'm on Capitol Street at Lamar." The 911 operator had no way to track my exact location unless I gave specific landmarks. She was off 3 blocks. Jackson is not Phase 2 compliant.
Hinds County is also unable to find your exact location. We called for help right inside the county's 911Emergency center. "I'm calling you from my cell phone. Can you pinpoint where my location is? I don't know where I am for instance. This is a test.
The Hinds County 911 operator replied, "No ma'am, not your exact location can you describe to me where you are at?" I was standing right next to her. We asked Lt. Mike Maldenado of the Hinds County Sheriff's Department this question. "How will you find me? his reply, "We are going to ask for landmarks." That would be fine except if you had been kidnapped and were in the trunk of a vehicle. "Phase 2 could track me by using GPS in my cell phone immediately. "We would love to have the system. In a perfect world we would love to have that, right now we don't," according to Maldenado.
Our investigation found, Hinds County is Phase 1 compliant, not Phase 2 despite having money to upgrade the system. Some folks on Capitol Street in downtown Jackson had this response. "You are being billed for it. Yet it's not in place. This is shocking. I feel that it's not right. Shocking to know they would bill you like that and they are not providing the service."
We were unable to determine, through a variety of sources, just how many Mississippi counties are billing you and not using that money to follow federal requirements to ensure your well being is just a phone call away.
In response to the lack of upgrade in Hinds County, Robert Graham the Board of Supervisors President told us, "We are working toward it and why it has not been done at this particular time, I really can't tell you." This despite millions sitting idle, and approval from the board of Supervisors to enact the system in July 2009. Troubling gaps exist. We challenged the lack of an upgrade to Phase 2. " Nearly 3 million dollars that people have been taxed is sitting in a fund and has not been used. So why not?" Graham said, "We should have it in place. There is no reason why we should not have it in place at this time."
Jimmy Lewis the new Hinds County Emergency Operations Center director shifts the blame back to Supervisors. The E911 director would not talk on camera. Despite repeated attempts to get an interview, we never came face to face with anyone at Hinds County's EOC Operations Center.
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