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Accurate tracking for the millions at Fort Myers Beach

Fire chief says enhanced 911 services can track a cell phone location within ten feet.
Fort Myers Beach 911 Accuracy
Posted at 2:52 PM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 14:58:18-04

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — With millions of people coming to Fort Myers Beach each year to relax and unwind, anyone in the line of work of keeping people safe also understands the challenges.

“We get people from all over the world,” Scott Wirth, the director of operations for the Fort Myers Beach Fire District, acknowledges. Wirth says about 75 percent of calls from his district into 911 are for emergency medical situations.

In the fire district’s domain, this means people who may be on vacation and unfamiliar with their surroundings or location. They may not know where the nearest beach access road is. They could be sunburned, dehydrated, intoxicated or simply tired from being out all day in the sun.

As Lee County transitions into what it calls “next generation 911”, Wirth also notes just how much more accurate pinpointing a location is right now, even more than just a few years ago.

“The most advanced 911 system that Lee County has will pinpoint somebody’s cellphone accuracy down to about ten feet or less,” said Wirth. “The dispatch center is dropping a pin on a map (when someone calls), similar to what you see with the map on your phone.”

Previously, Wirth said the location pinpointing radius was about 100 yards, the length of a football field.

Wirth demonstrated for FOX 4 how closely a 911 operator could pinpoint a call. He stood on the beach side of the Wyndham on Estero Boulevard, on the eastern edge of Fort Myers Beach. The system detected his location in just seconds and Wirth talked about how critical the accuracy is.

“At 100 yards, you’re probably talking as much as a half-a-block area to try and figure out where somebody is at,” said Wirth. “There are multiple condo complexes in this area and we could have, probably, narrowed it down to two, three or four condo complexes.”

Think about that for a second on a crowded beach, especially when 75 percent of the 911 calls that come in are for medical emergencies.

On a sun-sprinkled morning along the beach, with hundreds of people all set up for another spectacular Southwest Florida beach day, one beachgoer also noted the larger picture.

“What if you’re traveling with small kids and, all of a sudden, something happens or you’re traveling with your parents and they’re having trouble breathing?” asked Stephanie Bruchou, visiting from Argentina to see old friends.

In the county’s 911 enhancements, three major components are part of it. Automation to route the calls, with people who hang up getting an automatic callback. The text-to-911 will be available to allow people to use real-time video streaming from a location and also updated location services.