FCC commissioners today voted to consolidate its location-accuracy requirements for wireless 911 calls and seek comments designed to improve location accuracy for voice-over-IP (VoIP) emergency communications, so first responders can provide aid in crisis situations as quickly as possible.

Under the new rules, all wireless carriers would be required to meet the more stringent GPS-based E-911 location-accuracy requirements by 2019. By the end of this eight-year time period, wireless carriers also will have to meet these requirements at the county level or the PSAP-territory level and report the results of location-accuracy tests on a regular basis.

Knowing the location of a 911 caller can be critical in an emergency situation, particularly when callers are unable to communicate their location to an emergency call taker. Without reliable location data, first responders can lose valuable time searching for an emergency caller.

“In the case of a heart attack or stroke, time is of the essence,” FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said during the commission’s regular meeting.

Public-safety officials have long expressed concerns about the location accuracy of cellular calls, which were documented in an Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) study known as Project LOCATE, which found significant disparities in the location accuracies of wireless 911 calls, based on the location and technology used by a carrier.

“Individuals calling 911 often don’t know, or are unable to provide, correct information regarding their location,” APCO President Bill Carrow said in a prepared statement. “The FCC’s rules require wireless carriers to use appropriate technologies to identify a 911 caller’s location, and then provide that information to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). However, the location information must be accurate and reliable for first responders to reach emergencies in a timely manner,”

In addition to the E-911 rules, the FCC voted to seek comment on several aspects of VoIP 911 services that it is considering, as well as suggestions designed to ensure that there is automatic location information for all VoIP 911 calls.

One other aspect the commission wants to explore is the ability for location technologies to provide greater location accuracy within buildings, because a simple street address often is not very helpful if an emergency call come from a large office building.