• J. David Grossman

“Who you Gonna Call” When GPS Isn’t Working?

By: J. David Grossman, Executive Director, GPS Innovation Alliance


“Who you gonna call?” We all remember that famous refrain from the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, right? When it comes to reporting a GPS disruption or outage, thankfully there is no need to call Ghostbusters.

The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center (NAVCEN) based in Alexandria, Virginia is on the case, serving as the general public’s point of contact for reporting problems with the civil GPS signal (except for those involving aviation, which are handled by the FAA). In late August, my colleague Mike Swiek and I visited NAVCEN, where we met with top leadership, including Capt. Michael W. Glander, who recently assumed the role of NAVCEN Commanding Officer.

Chances are you’re familiar with the U.S. Air Force’s responsibility for operating and maintaining the 31 active satellites in the GPS constellation. What you may not know is that the Coast Guard’s Navigation Center serves as the U.S. government’s primary point of contact for civil GPS users. NAVCEN is also responsible for managing the intake of GPS outage reports and coordinating any investigation that follows.

Before reporting what you think is a GPS problem, it is important to understand the distinction between an actual problem with the GPS signal (i.e. the satellites orbiting roughly 12,000 miles above the earth) and an issue with the mapping software on your smartphone or other GPS device. I often hear people say “my GPS isn’t working” when they actually mean that the mapping software on their device is associating their address with an incorrect location, which is often caused by outdated maps. While this is not an issue handled by the Coast Guard, you can visit GPS.gov to learn more about how to report such a mapping error to the people that actually develop these map capabilities.

NAVCEN also recommends taking a few basic steps:

  • Reset your device by cycling power to the unit

  • Confirm the settings for your GPS unit or GPS application

  • Refer to your equipment manual

  • Update your equipment software or firmware and GPS mapping software

  • Contact your equipment manufacturer for additional assistance

If you still believe that you’re experiencing “service degradations, disruptions, or other incidents or anomalies” with the GPS signal, you can submit a report on the NAVCEN website. It’s easy to do and only requires some basic information such as when and where the GPS disruption occurred and whether the disruption is ongoing.

NAVCEN processes these reports, working together with federal partners to determine the validity of the report. What becomes of these reports can be found on a publicly posted page, where you will find the recent reports received by NAVCEN, and if known, the cause of the disruption. So far in 2018, NAVCEN has received fewer than 60 reports. While our ultimate goal is to ensure you never experience a GPS disruption, it should be comforting to know that there is a process in place to submit such a report and a ‘cop on the beat’ will investigate. Here at GPSIA, we are grateful for the dedicated professionals at NAVCEN, who work each and every day to help ensure that the GPS signal is robust and secure. A continuously available GPS signal enables GPSIA member companies to innovate and in turn deliver cutting-edge consumer products that help us save time and money. Working together, we can keep the GPS innovation train rolling for decades to come!

© Copyright 2020, GPS Innovation Alliance