Why we need to dispatch dispatchable location

April 13, 2022

The legacy landline telecommunications network of 40 years ago registered phone numbers to physical residential addresses…and finding an individual calling 9-1-1, and validating their indoor location, was relatively straightforward. It lead to the definition of what we know as dispatchable address:

“…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.” - FCC

In 2022, we are significantly more mobile, and this landline framework doesn’t apply anymore, it’s going extinct. Public Safety has needed to explore efficient technologies to keep up, but location accuracy of callers indoors, and for multi-storey buildings or campuses, is complex, since GPS, cell tower triangulation and crowd-sourced wi-fi don’t work well enough. With so many emergency calls originating from these areas, it’s not a problem we can ignore:

“Indoor locations are common for wireless 9-1-1 calls: Significant percentages of PSAPs had received wireless 9-1-1 calls from apartment buildings (93 percent), office buildings (88 percent), hotels (78 percent), retirement homes (70 percent), hospitals (55 percent) and college dorms (36 percent) in the last year.” -  PRNewswire article

"If you call 911 from a wireless phone indoors, cross your fingers, because FCC location standards for emergency calls do not apply indoors." "In most cities, just a few meters can mean the difference between several buildings and that can be the difference between life and death." - previous FCC Commissioner, now FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel


It’s predicted that by 2024 global mobile device subscriptions will top 17 billion. Today over 80% of emergency calls in the US are made from a mobile device (with similar stats for many other western countries), and this number will only increase as time moves on. The evolving mobile telephony market with; VoIP (voice over internet protocol, e.g. Skype, Zoom), multi-line enterprise phone systems (e.g. offices) and urban multi-storey developments/condos, all mean securing accurate mobile phone location is going to become more complicated and more in demand.

PSAPs using those combinations of cell tower ID/triangulation, GPS, and Wi-Fi to define a search area are using a process that’s flawed. It’s still uncommon knowledge for the general public, that once you walk inside a building you’re almost invisible to the emergency operator. If you cannot/do not verbally disclose your location, they need to ask more key questions to define your location, or estimate it… which means guess.

And it’s not just the indoor component that’s failing…walk up a flight of stairs, move to an office or apartment on a different floor and the PSAP still thinks you’re on ground level…So no longer just a horizontal search area to define, but also a vertical one.

Dispatchable location, is “the door to knock on” because that’s what it is. It’s not the door to your building, or your neighbour’s door, it would be your apartment door. With over 240 million calls to 9-1-1 in the US, 1 in 8 US citizens living in an apartment, 83% of US’s population in urban settings and 10,000 people dying needlessly each year, it’s what our industry needs, and our emergency callers deserve.

Sources for article