12 Feb 2012

Emergency call review advocates cellphone tracking

6:02 am on 12 February 2012

A review of 111 emergency call system suggests using tracking systems on mobile phones to help emergency services find people when they need urgent help.

The review was commissioned after callers to emergency services in 2009 and 2010 could not get through because Telecom's XT network and its Papatoetoe telephone exchange failed.

Communications Minister Amy Adams says the review focuses on the system to the point where calls are handed over by Telecom to emergency service providers. It does not cover the response of emergency services to 111 calls.

The review is being carried out to ensure the call system is robust and coping with changing technologies.

About 3 million emergency calls are made every year, more than one-third of them using a mobile phone.

Ms Adams says emergency services already use location systems to work out where landline calls come from, but people's privacy would need to be considered to extend that to cellphones.

"If we're quite happy for it to be tracked from a landline, are we equally happy that it's able to be tracked from a cellphone? And if we're happy (with) that from a privacy perspective, then what is the cost of the technology of doing it."

Ms Adams says the benefits of the location service need to be weighed against any privacy concerns people have.

The review looks at whether texting, internet or satellite locating such as global positioning system (GPS) could be used to improve the system.

It also examines whether companies should have to have an independent electricity source to keep mobile phone masts running continuously when power is cut during a civil emergency.

Submissions to the Ministry of Economic Development close on 30 March.