Carriers Adding Better Location Tools for 911 Calls

It’s critical 911 operator get the location data they need to send first responders to the right place, says FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Speaking at the NG911 Institute Wednesday, she said several efforts are underway to update 911 location data. In fact, this week, the largest carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, announced they’re adding new device-based location-based tools to their technology, marking another step to making sure 911 operators will know a caller’s location.  

Such change is needed because nearly 80 percent of 911 calls now originate from a wireless phone, up from previous estimates of 70 percent. 911 call systems were built for the days of wired phones, requiring a cord and wall jack. Now, the system accommodates wireless and VoIP calls and even texting in some locations. “But all this change in how we reach out in crisis has consequences — because these new ways of making a call do not provide the same level of location information for the 911 operator,” said Rosenworcel.  

In 2015, the FCC updated rules to improve indoor wireless location accuracy. A testbed has been established, a database is in place, and carriers file progress reports about the percentage of calls that now include dispatchable location.

Last year, the FCC kicked off a proceeding to look into the 911 problems with “enterprise communications systems”— often found in offices or hotels. The agency plans to vote later this month on ways to ensure a caller can reach 911 without first dialing “9” or “1.” The Commission will also vote to ensure that dispatchable location is conveyed with every 911 call, regardless of the platform used.

Rosenworcel believes it’s unacceptable if the agency “fails to include a date certain by which 911 callers across the country can expect that whenever, wherever, and however they call for help—first responders can find them.”

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September 7, 2018

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