An Austin woman who dialed 911 recently discovered what she said could be a fatal flaw in some new cell phones.
“I think it’s a danger to everyone,” she says.
Carol, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of making herself or her land a target for vandals, called for help recently when she arrived at some vacant property she owns in east Austin and found her security chain gone.
She grabbed her new Casio G’zOne phone from Verizon Wireless, which to her horror made an audible alarm when she called 911.
Fearing vandals were still on the property, she hung up and hid, then put her hand over the earpiece and dialed again to muffle the sounds.
“I was afraid the criminals were down the driveway and they would hear and they would know somebody was doing something and they would come out to stop me,” she said.
The alarm is not ear-splitting, but it is loud enough to be heard at least several yards away.
Turns out, Verizon said the 911 alarm is on all its new phones. Verizon said the audible tone is required by the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC, however, said that’s not so.
Here’s what Verizon Spokeswoman Sheryl Sellaway said:
“The tone our customer experienced is our interpretation of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act calling for a provider of telecommunications service to offer service that is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. The tone, indicating that 911 has been dialed, is one of several features designed to make wireless service is accessible and easy to use, especially for those with disabilities. Other features include a voice command key where customers can use their voice to dial by name or number; a voice echo feature so that a person who can’t see can hear the number or letter if sending a text; read back text messages and speech output of signal strength, battery strength, missed calls, voicemail, roaming, time and date.”
Sellaway said Verizon is concerned that Carol is unhappy with her service. She said Carol’s is the first complaint about the tone.
But the FCC said Section 255 of the Telecommunications Code requires that phones let a caller know a 911 call is underway, but does not require an audible alarm.
“The Commission has not implemented any rules pursuant to Section 255 that would require the use of any tones concerning 911 calls,” a spokesman said.
The FCC said it has not had any complaints about 911 alarms.
Back in Austin, Carol said she worries about someone trying to unobtrusively get help — maybe during a robbery or a kidnapping — only to have the alarm alert criminals to their whereabouts.
She said she’s lucky, because vandals had already left her property when she called police back in September.
Now she said she carries an old beat-up phone with her phone on her property because though it’s falling apart, it will still call 911 — quietly.