In critical situations, a few minutes can easily spell the difference between life and death. Any lag or gap in communications between callers and emergency response professionals imperils the slender thread that sustains swift response.
Emergency telephony faces a major hurdle when the public makes 9-1-1 calls from their cell phones. Currently, there is low location accuracy for wireless 9-1-1 calls. Because the overwhelming majority of these calls are made from a mobile device, the gap in knowledge leaves first responders at a considerable disadvantage in trying to locate those in need of emergency assistance.
The technologies that allow cell phones to be located are suited to outdoor situations. When calls are made indoors, the technology often fails. Compounding the difficulty of indoor emergency calls is the fact that location technologies at present cannot inform 9-1-1 call centers what floor a call originated from. In tall buildings providing emergency help can be very like finding a needle in a haystack.
Realizing that the inability to locate indoor cell phone locations reliably is a dangerous gap in our emergency communications safety net, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau earlier this year issued a proposal detailing rules first responders should adhere to when answering calls from mobile devices. The Bureau is satisfied there is now in place sufficient technology to close the gap on cellular emergency calls.
The problem, then, is a matter of implementation.
Last month the four major wireless carriers and two national public safety associations (NEEA and APCO) made a major step forward by issuing their own roadmap toward achieving indoor location accuracy. A comprehensive document, the roadmap lays out public safety outcomes and a timeline to guide implementation.
The response to the roadmap has been mixed. Some have urged the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to abandon the roadmap, citing concern for accountability, the pace of implementation and achievement, as well as measures of effectiveness. Critics would like the Bureau to return to its original proposal.
The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will continue to accept comments and suggestions on the APCO/NENA/Carrier Roadmap until December 24th. The Bureau addresses the issue:
“How might the recent APCO/NENA/Carrier Roadmap best help close the 9-1-1 wireless location accuracy capability gap?
“Given commitments made to implement the Roadmap, what specific elements of the previous FCC proposal remain relevant and what elements are not sufficiently covered in the Roadmap?
“How might the Commission use the full record to close the wireless 9-1-1 indoor location capability gap effectively, affordably, expeditiously in a measureable and accountable manner?
How do we ensure that legitimate privacy and security concerns are appropriately addressed?”
Closing the gap on wireless calls is one of the most important public safety issues facing 9-1-1 and emergency first response in this country. Hopefully, a careful consideration of the Bureau’s proposal and APCO/NENA/Carrier Roadmap will produce a clear set of rules and implementation guidelines.