FCC to Vote on Vertical Access for Wireless 911 Calls in Multi-story Buildings

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a proposal to help first responders locate people who call 911 from wireless phones in multi-story buildings. Specifically, it would establish a vertical (or “z-axis”) location accuracy metric of three meters for indoor wireless 911 calls. The Commission plans to vote on this proposal at its next meeting on November 19. 

“If you call 911 for help, emergency responders need to know where to find you,” said Chairman Pai. “But that can be a challenge if you make a wireless 911 call from a multi-story building, like many apartments and offices. Even if first responders know which building you’re in—that is, your horizontal location—they may still need your vertical location to determine which floor you’re on.”

The agency intends to address this safety gap. If adopted, the new rule would help first responders locate emergency callers more quickly and accurately. “Establishing a z-axis metric of three meters is a major step forward, and I’m grateful for the broad support it’s received from the public safety community, including our nation’s firefighters,” said Pai. 

The draft order would establish a z-axis location accuracy metric of three meters relative to the handset for 80 percent of indoor wireless 911 calls. The draft item also seeks comment on whether to establish a long-term timeline for more stringent location accuracy.

The z-axis metric of three meters has been supported by first responders, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the National Association of State EMS Officials, according to the FCC. 

This action is part of the FCC’s efforts to help first responders locate 911 callers more quickly and accurately. Most recently, in August, the Commission adopted rules to improve 911 calling from multi-line telephone systems (which commonly serve hotels, office buildings, and campuses) and other calling platforms, Inside Towers reported. 

October 31, 2019

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