Where’s the caller? Next year, six test beds will help answer that question for indoor 911 calls
Next year, the four nationwide wireless carriers will test the technology and data that could deliver meaningful, dispatchable locations for 911 wireless phone calls inside and outside buildings a reality, according to an official with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver/Front Range, Philadelphia and Manhattan have been selected as the cellular market areas (CMAs) that will serve as test beds that will demonstrate technical capabilities in four real-world environments—dense urban, urban, suburban and rural—as part of the initiative to implement location-accuracy rules established by the FCC earlier this year, according to Jeff Cohen, chief counsel for APCO.
APCO and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) have been working to develop the standards and process of improving 911-call location accuracy, Cohen said during a presentation at last month’s Emerging Technology Forum in Atlanta. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon will provide 911 call data—for example, unique identifiers and alphanumeric codes—that exist on every phone with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi access. Carriers also could offer vertical, or Z-axis, location information to complement the traditional XY location information that is effectively provided with GPS technology today for outdoor calls but requires a new approach for wireless 911 calls made from inside many buildings.
“Carriers have to submit this (vertical) metric to the FCC in the next three years,” Cohen said. “It’s a hard, hard, hard technology to solve.”
By Dec. 31, a vendor will be chosen to carry out the 911-location technologies test bed in the six CMAs. The test beds, which will be launched by August 2016, are meant to provide location-accuracy for public-safety answering points (PSAPs) within 50 meters of wireless 911 calls inside buildings, which, in many cases, does not occur, Cohen said. The rules originally applied only to wireless outdoors calls.
During his presentation at the tech forum, Cohen explained that the technology that could assist PSAPs to better locate callers is already in use for commercial purposes.
“Walking through Macy’s, [location systems] can locate where you are. In theory, if you go by a certain department, they can message you about a sale,” he said. “That’s done through Bluetooth technologies. Most of them have those sensors. We want to leverage these technologies for public safety.”
Utilizing actual 911 centers in various regions with existing and new technology will help the team develop a process for delivering dispatchable-location data and technology-neutral, transparent results, Cohen said.
The wireless carriers are in the process of submitting the unique identifiers to the chosen test markets. By February 2017, the data collected by PSAPs in those six markets will be aggregated to create a quarterly report to show what percentage of time each of the location methods being tested meets the accuracy requirements.
Another important piece to the collection and analysis of the data is the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD), a database that carriers will populate with unique identifier codes associated with access points such as Bluetooth beacons or Wi-Fi access points, according to Jay English, APCO’s director of comm-center and 911 services.
The team creating the standards for location-accuracy will determine how best to define what access point is most relevant.
“How do we weed out that this building has a dozen or more Wi-Fi access points?”
“The standards that will drive the solutions matter,” English said. “Whether it’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or something else, there’s a number of different ways to find out: Where’s the caller?”