Google can find us in an instant. So can Apple. Smartphones use GPS, Wi-Fi signalsand other tricks to pinpoint a person's location.
Yet we haven't given all 911 dispatchers the technology to quickly find cellphone callers. And the tools dispatchers do have don't always work well, as seen in a recent Omaha case.
These technology shortcomings present a risk. Nationally and locally, the majority of 911 calls now come from cellphones — including 72 percent in Douglas County last year. And quite a few callers don't know where they are calling from.
The delay in finding John and Jason Edwards Feb. 12 after they were shot by their sister's ex-boyfriend reinforces the urgency of finding fixes.
Some strides have been made since 2005, when a young couple called 911 by cellphone from a quarry west of Gretna but froze to death after authorities were unable to find them. The state has spent nearly $65 million on equipment upgrades since then. But work remains.
In the recent shooting, dispatchers identified the nearest cell tower and narrowed the search. Questions have now arisen about whether more detailed location information was available but didn't reach the dispatcher. State and county investigations continue.
Regardless of the outcome, the state and cellphone service providers are years from providing dispatchers with the most reliable tools, The World-Herald has reported. That's where local, state and federal politicians need to keep pressing.
A failed $25 million bond issue in Douglas County in 2014 would have secured a new county 911 center and updated its equipment. It is probably time to try again. The county's 911 center has outgrown its space. And a greater focus should be considered on funding for technology that improves dispatchers' ability to find those cellphone callers.
At the state level, a legislative bill to promote new technology for 911 centers deserves a look.
Nationally, the Federal Communications Commission has ordered wireless phone service providers to improve their ability to provide locations in emergencies. Federal regulations are set to require cell carriers, by 2021, to locate 80 percent of 911 callers within about 50 yards.
Talks should continue about future emergency cellphone location standards. If Silicon Valley can give people transit directions while underground on a New York subway, they can help first responders find a 911 caller's apartment.
We should make sure our 911 dispatchers can send help quickly, and to the right place. In emergencies, every minute matters.