A lot of people have been coming to Wayne Dobson's house lately -- but he's not happy about it.
Las Vegas-based local news station MyNews3 reports that for Dobson, a North Las Vegas resident, the problem started when Clark County zoning accidentally assigned a cell phone tower's location to his home address. Now, when people try to track their missing cell phones, they're often led to Dobson's front porch.
The Clark County police also use the same system to track addresses that most people use to track cell phones, MyNews3 reports. As a result, they are given Dobson's address if a 911 caller doesn't know his or her address, which could leave the caller, in another location, helpless in an emergency.
911 failures aren't uncommon in the United States -- but the problem is usually human error, not technical incompetence. Reader's Digest has profiled the rise in 911 errors over the past several years, due in part to poorly trained operators and cuts in the budgets of 911 services. Worse, the rise of Internet-based "spoofing" services (which can display false phone numbers on caller ID systems) has led to an increase in 911 prank calls, Fox News reports. A particularly dangerous prank called "swatting" sends heavily armed SWAT teams to an innocent person's house, diverting SWAT teams and often leaving people terrified and injured.
Still, Dobson's problem is, as far as we can tell, unique.
It could become worse, too, as the number of people using smartphones skyrockets and GPS-based services on cell phones increasingly become a "must-have." Ironically, efforts by the Federal Communications Commission meant to increase the accuracy of 911 responses may only compound Dobson's troubles by encouraging more providers to embed GPS in their phones. More people may also start to use a GPS phone-tracking service because of the success of Apple's "Find My Phone" app, which means Dobson may be getting knocks on his door for a while.