Not everyone knows it, but there are some serious issues with the ability of emergency call takers to find the location of 911 callers in the United States. The problem stems from the fact that the 911 system in the U.S. was developed with technology from around 40 years ago, when everyone had a landline, and the caller literally had to be in the building associated with the phone they were calling from.
A lot has changed since then, and now a majority of 911 calls come from cell phones, which aren’t tethered to any particular area or building. This means that when callers don’t know their own location—they can’t find street signs, are in a different city or neighborhood, or find themselves in an area without many identifying features—it can actually be very difficult for responders to find their location.
That might seem odd, seeing as we all have apps for finding our phones, tracking our location, and even tracking our friends’ locations, but PSAPs in the U.S. desperately need an upgrade, and that costs a lot of money that they aren’t necessarily getting.
So why is the U.S. National Grid so important? The USNG is the official coordinate system used for search and rescue in the United States. When someone calls 911, PSAPs that use this technology can use the caller’s device’s GPS to generate USNG coordinates. Usable data is anywhere from 8-13 characters, and it can generate a coordinate that identifies the caller’s position within 10 meters—a small enough area that they can easily be found.
There are a few benefits to using the USNG to find callers. For one thing, it’s an easy system for both the caller and the PSAP. It’s also the national standard, and has been the coordinate system for land search and rescue since 2011.
The system isn’t automatic, but if the caller has a smartphone, they can pull up the site and find their coordinates, or preferably, have the app saved on their phone to streamline the process. USNGAPP.ORG will work on a phone without internet connectivity as long as it has been used once before on that device. That makes it ideal for rural areas and other environments where data service is spotty or nonexistent and recognizable landmarks may be few and far between.
The race to upgrade PSAP technology and bring 911 call centers up to date with cell phone use is vital to our safety and security as a nation. When PSAPs implement the U.S. National Grid as part of their existing technology, it gives them another option for finding cell phone users in emergency situations.
If your PSAP is looking to upgrade software and technology, then look no further than KOVA. Our public safety software gives government, public, and enterprise organizations the actionable security information they need to be effective in their emergency response, investigations, and analysis. Contact us today to find out how public safety software solutions from KOVA can benefit your PSAP.