Have we lost our way pursuing better location for emergency calls?

March 09, 2022

Dispatchable location is the industry “gold standard”. No responder likes guessing if they need to kick down a door to save a stroke victim, or arriving 30 mins too late when someone is having a heart attack, or being turned around because the location information is incorrect.

Do we have dispatchable address for 9-1-1 mobile calls?

The short answer…NO.

The technology is available (more on that later), but Emergency Number systems around the globe  don’t provide a door to knock on. If we had dispatchable location, people would not continue to die by the thousands every year.

Why don’t we have dispatchable address for mobile calls?

There’s no simple answer. The industry is exploring various technologies, some which claim to offer dispatchable, or others an “alternative”. But currently providing this detail is eluding the Industry.

Where are we today with dispatchable location?

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US began adopting 9-1-1 location-accuracy rules to establish timelines for wireless carriers to provide either dispatchable location information or coordinate-based location information.

Public-safety organizations such as APCO and BAPCO have stated a dispatchable location should be the ultimate goal since that location information is data Dispatchers can utilize easily.

In August 2019, and after different publications, orders and announcements, the FCC then implemented the Ray Baum Act, alongside an act called Kari’s Law (for direct dialing to 9-1-1 for MLTS).

The Ray Baum Act was directly concerned with LOCATION of the emergency caller, and the FCC split the requirement into 2 groups:

  • Multi-Line Telephone Systems (MLTS), such as hotels, office buildings etc.
  • Non-Multi-Line Telephone Systems (wireless, mobile calls)
    Before reading any further,  remember that over 80% of calls to the Emergency Services are now through a mobile device…and over 60% are from indoor locations

For MLTS location, the FCC stated:

[“Section 506 of RAY BAUM’S Act, the Commission has adopted rules to ensure that “dispatchable location” is conveyed with 9-1-1 calls to dispatch centers, regardless of the technological platform used, including 9-1-1 calls from MLTS.  Dispatchable location means a location delivered to the PSAP with a 9-1-1 call that consists of the validated street address of the calling party, plus additional information such as suite, apartment, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.]

In respect to mobile calls to 9-1-1, it becomes less transparent.

Several orders and re-orders were issued after August 2019. The most recent of these orders, the 6th Report and Order, expands the vertical location accuracy deployment options and became effective on September 28, 2020, over a year after the original Ray Baum Act order was announced.

Location accuracy for mobile calls was now separated into vertical and horizontal accuracy, and the deadline for April 2021 required:

Horizontal Location Accuracy Benchmark:

Nationwide providers must:

  • Achieve 50-meter (164ft.) horizontal accuracy (x/y location within 50 meters)
  • Provide Dispatchable location

For 80 percent of all wireless 9-1-1 calls. Non-nationwide providers had a little more leeway.

Vertical Location Accuracy Benchmark:

In each of the top 25 cellular market areas (CMAs), nationwide CMRS providers shall deploy either:

  • Dispatchable location
  • Z-axis technology.

After the April 2021 deadline, other deployment options and accuracies were further defined, however, the option of either Dispatchable location OR Z-axis now remains through to 2026, where carriers can effectively choose which location method above to deploy.

Looking closely at the horizontal requirements, the easier option is by far the 50-meter accuracy, which providers are clearly going to offer (since they already have the technology).

For the vertical location element, z-axis is the easier choice, and it does not provide accurate indoor location, simply an estimated barometric/ vertical reading as Height Above Ellipsoid. The data is also regarded as unusable by Responders and requires vast infrastructure changes.

Are we moving in the right direction to providing a dispatchable location for 9-1-1 or 112? Or are we providing a get-out clause bringing us a little closer, but not close enough to saving the 000’s of lives lost each year?