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Company offering GPS for 911 calls

AT&T said the Fargo-Moorhead area is among the first in the nation to have such a service.

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FARGO — Mary Phillippi describes the announcement by AT&T that the company will use GPS on cell phones to give a more precise location for its customers who call 911 "a win in my book."

Phillippi, who leads the joint Red River Valley Regional Dispatch Center, said the center has access in many ways to locate where calls come from but they aren't as good as GPS in a handset.

The company said Fargo-Moorhead is one of the first areas to get a 911 upgrade that uses GPS instead of cell towers. The service is now available to its customers in 15 states, including all of North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Company spokeswoman Suzanne Trantow said the system should be operational nationwide in June.

The new system should make it easier for first responders to find 911 callers.

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As an example, she said if a caller was stranded along the road in a snowstorm and they really don't know where they are located, they could be found more quickly through the GPS.

"In an emergency, a couple of minutes can make a difference," Trantow said.

AT&T is the first wireless company to offer the service, she said, adding that 80% of 911 calls are now made from mobile devices.

The technology can help narrow down the location of a wireless caller to about 55 yards, she said.

Sometimes the cell tower coverage can only give a location within a few miles, causing a delay in emergency response time.

The system works automatically on mobile 911 calls.

Phillippi said she's comfortable with how the current system works but the GPS should provide better information.

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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