Cell phone company to respond to tracking issue

Staff reporter

A recent incident regarding a GPS tracking device not working on a cell phone has prompted Marion County Communications to seek answers from a national cell phone carrier.

The incident occurred June 7, when a couple became lost and then marooned in a boat on Marion Reservoir. One of the occupants of the boat used a cell phone that was activated through T-Mobile. According to Marion County Communications Director Michele Abbott-Becker, the tracking device that can locate the position of a caller did not reveal the location of this particular 911 caller.

"The 911 call came through an administration (office) line instead of going through a non-trunked 911 line," Abbott-Becker said.

T-Mobile is not a service provider to residents in Marion County, however, all telephone companies are to comply with requirements which include the capabilities to locate the position from which calls are made on telephones — whether cell or land.

"Typically it takes about 20 seconds before information is transmitted and the location of the phone can be tracked," Abbott-Becker said, adding sometimes it could take 60-90 seconds. But in this case, it appears to have been an oversight of the cell phone provider.

The GPS tracking device is particularly helpful in cases like these when victims do not know their exact location, are disoriented, or injured.

"The longer the caller stays on the line the better for tracking," she said.

The county department has attempted to contact T-Mobile regarding the incident, but the company has not yet responded.

Does this happen often?

"No," Abbott-Becker said, this is a new one for her. "We also are able to track pre-paid cell phones. This is a specific T-Mobile issue."

The department does not have problems with services provided by area cell phone carriers, and this is the first incident of this kind with an out-of-area provider.