It’s a busy time, but 911 practitioners should share their location-accuracy opinions with the FCC
During the past month, one of the hottest debates in the public-safety industry has revolved around the issue of location-accuracy requirements for 911 calls made with cell phones that are being used inside a building.
It is a debate that is long overdue, because no such requirements exist today. There are FCC rules that provide accuracy thresholds that carriers must meet for 911 calls made from cell phones that are used outdoors, but there are no location-accuracy regulations for indoor emergency calls made from cell phones.
Frankly, that’s crazy, given current consumer trends toward smart devices. According to a 2013 study, more than 40% of U.S. households no longer have a landline phone, and another 20% use their cell phone almost exclusively, even though they also subscribe to landline service. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of calls to 911 today come from cell phones, and most of those come from indoor locations. And, of course, public safety needs to know the locations of incidents to respond to them properly.
Thankfully, the need is so obvious that no one is arguing against the creation of indoor-accuracy rules for 911 calls from cell phones. However, there are significant disagreements about what should be included in such regulations.
Early this year, the FCC initiated a proceeding to consider location-accuracy rules for indoor 911 calls. Last month, the four nationwide wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile—reached a voluntary agreement with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) that proposes a roadmap to improve location-accuracy information for 911 calls from cell phones.
With this in mind, the FCC is conducting a proceeding to gather opinions about the carriers’ proposal, which includes leveraging location information from various commercial technologies—Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi hotspots and small cells—to better locate someone using a cell phone to call 911 from indoors. The carriers’ proposal offers the promise of providing public safety with a dispatchable address for such calls, not just coordinates that have to be translated into an address.
Even critics of the carriers’ proposal agree that dispatchable address is a laudable goal, but they have significant concerns that the carriers’ proposal lacks accountability and will not yield the near-term benefits that are needed as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, the FCC does not have to make an either-or choice between its proposed rules and the carriers’ proposal, but it does need as much constructive input as possible to make the best decision possible.
To this end, the FCC has extended the comment period in this proceeding until Dec. 24. Certainly, it is a busy time of year for everyone, but those in the 911 community—particularly those working in public-safety answering points (PSAPs)—should consider sharing their views about what these location-accuracy rules should include, because they promise to impact the effectiveness of emergency responses for years to come.