Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Relying on Tech to Save a Life

A story out of Iowa recounts the experience of a woman who lost her husband to a heart attack.  A sad outcome, a sad story.  I feel for her.  But…

[The woman] claims instead of going to the Cerro Gordo County Dispatch Center, the call was routed to a 911 call center in Cedar Rapids.

The lawsuit claims valuable time was lost getting Rick Poole to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa due to the rerouting of the 911 call.

Minutes *do* matter in times like this.  Seconds, even.  So I can appreciate this woman’s situation, and her feelings.  As I understand Iowa, Cedar Rapids is about 150 miles from where her husband had his heart attack.  I don’t think this counts as a frivolous lawsuit, though I equally an unsure she deserves to win, just based on the merits of her argument.

See, I think we forget sometimes just how huge the United States really is.  We pick up this tiny piece of electronics, press a few buttons, and we are speaking with someone who may more than a thousand miles away.  And we’re used to that.

But the technology that goes into making that happen is very complex, and it’s not all a technical issue, either.  Decisions have to be made in a way that everyone agrees is a proper method for splitting this entire country up into appropriate routing zones (CSA’s and MSA’s).  Most of us now never grew up in a system where the distance over which your call was sent played a role in the cost of that call.

And in this case, another part of the problem is that it’s not just up to cell phone carriers to get this right.  The 911 centers are run by state and local authorities that have to make the necessary upgrades to participate in this kind of technology.  Was the “Cerro Gordo County Dispatch Center” configured with the necessary systems?  This might all come out as this proceeds.  IF it proceeds.  US Cellular just might choose to settle rather than fight it out in court.  And maybe that’s not unreasonable.

But maybe it *is* unreasonable that we take that kind of technology for granted like that.


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