911 center: GPS not always reliable

FRISCO Summit County emergency dispatchers say it sometimes takes longer to get help to people who rely on GPS-equipped smartphones because they dont know exactly where they are.

The Summit Daily News reported Sunday that some people who call 911 cant give their precise location even in towns or on major highways.

In a lot of cases, people really dont have any idea where they are, said Bill Pessemier, director of communications for the county.

If we dont have that address, it can cause a delay in time, maybe a minute or two or three, he said.

GPS is not as accurate as many people think, he said. GPS-enabled phones can find a callers location to within about 90 to 110 yards, he said.

Thats good for the backcountry, but in the town, with condos and businesses, its not as helpful, said Lisa Hans, a supervisor with the county communications department.

Hans said its particularly hard to pinpoint the location of someone who calls 911 from Interstate 70 in Summit County. Callers can sometimes say only that theyre west of Denver or tell dispatchers where theyre headed, she said.

Callers might say something such as, Yeah, we just left Denver; were on our way to California, Hans said.

We try to narrow it down. Eastbound or westbound? Did you come through a tunnel? Did you pass any towns? Were going through this process of elimination, and that takes time, she said.

Hans and Pessemier are asking local governments, the lodging industry and ski resorts to cooperate on an education campaign to encourage visitors to be aware of their location in more detail.

Pessemier said he doesnt yet have specifics or cost estimates for the plan but wants to get discussions started.

One idea is to improve address signage in populated areas.

If you walk up and down Main Street in Breckenridge or in Frisco, youd be hard-pressed to find addresses, he said.

Pessemier said the campaign could take at least six months to launch. He hopes to have something in place for summer.