John Oliver Thinks 911 Needs a Tech Overhaul

Many of the call centers that handle your emergency calls are powered by out-dated technology. John Oliver thinks that’s “fine if you’re describing a Radio Shack, but a little scary if you’re calling a place that handles emergency situations.” He reckons that it’s time things changed.

911—or the thing you call after WebMD fails you, according to Oliver—handles over 240 million calls a year. The people at the other end of the phone are incredible. But creaking infrastructure—as well a lack of cash and not enough staff—is serious, because it means that people can and do die.


In particular, Oliver focuses on the way that 911 calls are located, because the rise in emergency calls made from cellphones appears to be catching the system out. These days, he argues, an Uber can find you better than an ambulance can.

Technology exists that can help. But sadly, despite emergency services wanting better location data, the FCC’s current plans will only demand that carriers can report accurate location data to 911 call centers 80 percent of the time by 2021. That’s 20 percent short of the ideal.

[Last Week Tonight]


Share This Story

About the author

Jamie Condliffe

Contributing Editor at Gizmodo. An ex-engineer writing about science and technology.