In my past work as Iowa attorney general and then as the first director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, we made many decisions that sought to make conditions safer for women who are victims of domestic violence.  But I can think of nothing more fundamentally important to their safety than the Federation Communications Commission’s (FCC) pending decision on improved location accuracy of E911 calls. 

The FCC has the opportunity to help save the lives of countless victims of domestic violence. It can do that by adopting its own proposal requiring improved location accuracy of E911 calls placed from mobile devices indoors. 

That would help solve a problem many don’t even know exists. Countless TV dramas and Hollywood movies have led us to believe that simply calling 9-1-1 automatically means the emergency dispatcher answering the call can track the location of the caller. But that’s just not so.

The problem is particularly acute for mobile calls placed indoors, where the GPS location technology that largely works for calls placed outdoors is blocked or distorted by building walls, glass or adjacent structures. Indoors, mobile devices often fail to provide accurate information about the caller’s location – vital information in life-and-death situations when every second counts. 

And that’s a huge problem, because more than 75 percent of the roughly 240 million calls to E911 each year are placed from wireless phones, at least half originating indoors. 

As the FCC has itself estimated, the proposed rule would save 10,000 lives.  Many of the lives saved would be women in perilous and life-threatening situations created by domestic violence. The single largest category of E911 calls is domestic violence calls from women, more than 50 percent of all E911 calls in some areas. The New York Police Department reports, for instance, that it receives an average of 700 domestic violence calls a day, one every two minutes.  

If the person calling E911 has the opportunity and ability to tell the dispatcher their address, that’s one thing. But in domestic violence situations, if the phone is snatched away or the victim is disoriented or becomes incoherent the dispatcher has no certain means by which to determine the victim’s location. 

Violence against women is troubling, perplexing and all too common. Every day, four women and three children die due to acts of domestic violence, and it is imperative that in the 21st century we provide our emergency responders with the best possible information and technology to locate and assist those in distress. 

Widespread attention to the problem of domestic violence waxes and wanes. Attention spiked in 2009 when recording artist Chris Brown assaulted singer Rihanna. It peaked again recently because of the case of Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice, his casino hotel elevator attack on his then-fiancée, now wife, and the NFL’s handling of that situation both initially and after TMZ obtained video of the attack. 

But cases that attract national attention are certainly the exception rather than the rule, and every day and every night there is a heart wrenching steady drumbeat of domestic abuse – with, sadly, no shortage of horrific examples of situations in which enhanced indoor location information would likely have averted tragedies. 

A recent one is the case of Deanna Cook, who died at the hands of her husband while begging him not to kill her as it took Dallas police nearly 10 minutes just to determine her address. Another occurred in Lansing, Michigan, where dispatchers were forced to listen, powerlessly, as a woman was stabbed to death by her ex-husband. 

These are the kinds of tragic situations that could be prevented by the FCC’s proposed rulemaking. Multiple technologies are available today that can immediately improve the ability of first responders to do their jobs and save lives. To its credit, the FCC earlier this year proposed new regulations that would require just that within two years. But the phone carriers have pushed back, seeking to have the change postponed for a decade or more. 

The FCC should act on this crucial women’s safety issue and adopt the speedy implementation of wireless location accuracy standards. The lives of many are at stake. 

Campbell, a Des Moines, Iowa, attorney, is a former Iowa attorney general and the first director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women. She is currently a partner at LPCA Public Strategies.