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Wireless 911 Calls: Remember Location, Location, Location

As we’ve said before (here and here), April is “911 Education Month” and a good time to remind ourselves about how, at their core, wireless devices are public safety tools we can use to call 911.

Approximately every two seconds, someone calls 911 via wireless in the U.S., which is the equivalent to more than 400,000 wireless 911 calls a day. It wasn’t until 1991 when 911 was designated as the universal emergency number in the U.S. In those hopefully rare instances when you’ve needed it, you were able to make a wireless 911 call and provide information about the emergency and location so the first responders were prepared when they arrived. The location of the emergency is a very important part of the wireless 911 call so that the call takers know where to send first responders.

In coordination with the FCC, the wireless industry devoted significant resources to develop and deploy technologies specifically designed to send wireless location information to 911 call centers. Wireless 911 location technologies are different than the technologies that generate location for apps or maps on our wireless devices. As our wireless devices get “smarter,” wireless location information is increasingly calculated within the device as well as on wireless networks.

Even with years of wireless 911 call experience, there are many challenges to locating wireless 911 calls. For example, a wireless 911 call is automatically sent to the appropriate 911 call center based on your location, but calculating a more granular fix on your location generally takes time. In addition, wireless calls from inside buildings may create challenges for public safety because wireless 911 location information provides coordinates, not the exact building or floor.

For these reasons, remember to know where you are when we call 911. Usually, callers will state what the emergency is, but the 911 call taker will immediately respond with “where is your emergency?” While location information is available from your wireless device and service provider, it’s much faster to provide the exact location to the 911 call takers. First responders arrive sooner if they don’t need to spend time looking for you.

The wireless industry takes seriously a commitment to consumers and public safety to support 911 calls (and texts). Work is underway to develop and deploy new technologies to continue improving location capabilities for wireless 911 calls, both indoors and outdoors. We will continue to improve the 911 system by working together with our partners in the public safety community. If you ever have to call 911, remember, location, location, location.

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