Wireless 911 location accuracy gets a boost
This week I had the opportunity to visit Denver 911, a public-safety answering point (PSAP) in Denver County. It was conducting a demonstration for the media of new technology offered by WirelessWERX, which has created a wireless indoor location service.
The company’s aim is to significantly improve the accuracy of mobile 911 calls within buildings. As the 911 community knows, today’s 911 systems are designed to provide a location within an area of confidence between 50 and 150 meters. But results still vary. The location of the caller may be five blocks away from where the system pinpoints the user. The onus is on the caller to determine his or her location, and 911 call-takers typically face other problems when talking with a mobile 911 caller, such as service degradation.
That’s why this solution is compelling for Denver 911, which estimates that up to 60 percent of the calls it takes come from mobile users. It’s becoming the nation’s first PSAP to implement the SiteWERX solution.
Here’s how it works: SiteWERX is deployed as an in-building wireless node network. The location nodes, which sell for $80 apiece, are installed throughout a building. A Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone (about 90% of today’s phones are Bluetooth-enabled) runs the SiteWERX application, which sits dormant until a caller dials 911. The platform’s network software manages the nodes and sends location information to the PSAP. When the wireless 911 call is made, the caller’s building, floor and room location automatically are sent to the PSAP.
The solution works, not only indoors but within a perimeter outdoors too. The test caller made a call from an apartment building several miles away. Denver 911 was able to pinpoint the caller.
The technology offers a significant step forward in accuracy, but there are hurdles. Its widespread implementation depends on a number of factors: the willingness of building owners to deploy the technology, the willingness of mobile-phone users to download the application and the willingness of PSAPs to use the software.
Steve Artim, CEO of WirelessWERX, understands the technology is a complex sale. Its business model is to sell nodes to building owners, while PSAPs receive the software at no cost to them.
The company is targeting universities first because of their interest in the safety of their students, especially in light of campus shooting tragedies in the past. Universities keep a log of students’ wireless numbers and can easily send out text messages prompting them to download the SiteWerx application. Artim said his company is working with several unnamed large universities in Colorado, Texas, Indiana, Utah and Ohio, and added that in Texas, the company is able to tap some of the funds set aside for 911 upgrades. Artim said his company is signing on large installers and reseller partners to distribute the product. It counts ADT as a national reseller partner. The company also plans to roll out a retail product whereby consumers can buy a node at a retailer and install it at home.
As the FCC grapples with improving the accuracy of 911 systems, this technology seems promising, but it won’t be one that solves the problem overnight. Its success boils down to WirelessWERX’s creative marketing efforts and bringing the right partners into the fold.
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