Public Safety Groups Disagree on Deal to Increase 911 Location Accuracy

While two public safety groups have signed on to help wireless providers deliver more accurate cellphone location data to 911 dispatchers, several first-responder organizations are urging the FCC to consider alternatives.

A group of wireless providers and associations are teaming together to improve the location accuracy of indoor 911 calls. But firefighters and other first responders are raising concerns about whether the plan includes all the technologies needed to find a caller who needs help.

Last week AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, the National Emergency Number Association, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials announced a plan to meet the challenge originally posed by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission earlier this year to help first responders locate indoor wireless emergency callers within 50 meters horizontally and 3 meters vertically.

The plan is to get accurate location data to dispatchers for 80 percent of all wireless 911 calls within six years. The FCC estimates that better location accuracy could save more than 10,000 lives a year, according to Reuters.

“A 911 call is the most important call a wireless consumer makes,” Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA, The Wireless Association, which announced the agreement, said in a statement. “This agreement represents meaningful, significant, and achievable goals to provide first responders with the information they need to respond to wireless 911 calls. The FCC issued our industry a challenge, and we are proud of our ability to deliver a clear road map to critical 911 enhancements that meet the high standards and requirements of our nation’s leading public safety organizations.”

According to the plan, the wireless providers would use technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth to send more accurate cellphone location data to 911 dispatchers. While outdoor emergency calls have been made easier to track with satellite and other technologies, wireless calls made indoors can be harder to locate because walls can weaken cell signals. Most landline calls automatically deliver location information to dispatchers.

Several organizations representing first responders are not happy with the new deal, though. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last week, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of State Emergency Medical Services Officials, International Association of Chiefs of Police, and National Sheriffs’ Association said they had been given little time to consult on the plan.

“We were not consulted on these negotiations and were not provided any details of the discussions until October 29, 2014,” the letter stated. “Our organizations are disappointed that we were not consulted earlier, because we represent the leadership of the frontline first responders who are called upon to respond to 911 emergencies every day.”

The groups are urging the FCC to consider using technologies beyond WiFi and Bluetooth, which have not been tested for 911 emergencies in real-world environments, they wrote. “We urge the FCC to ensure that the carriers also use technologies that have been tested by the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) in their efforts to meet requirements for providing dispatchable location.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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