FCC unanimously approves rules to locate indoor wireless 911 callers

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The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to create rules that will allow first responders to better locate someone who calls 911 from a wireless phone while indoors.

The rules force wireless companies to create technology that will pinpoint the horizontal and vertical coordinates of a person who dials 911 from a building. Currently, 911 call centers can triangulate a person’s whereabouts if a call is made via a landline or a wireless phone outside of a building.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called the current gap “unacceptable,” recounting two separate incidents where a person was saved because she made a 911 call while outdoors while another person died because emergency responders could not locate the apartment from which the call originated.

“When the unthinkable occurs, you want first responders to find out, no matter where you are [and] no matter what phone you use to make that call,” Rosenworcel said.

The rules call for not only locational coordinates to be included in emergency calls, but also a vertical component that will help responders pinpoint calls made in tall buildings. In order to ensure compliance, nationwide carriers must continuously improve the amount of emergency calls that log this information.

The FCC’s rules state that 40 percent of emergency calls from wireless phones should have location information within two years, with the vertical information integrated within the next three years. On the rule’s long end, the FCC wants 80 percent of calls to have location information with vertical integration included in the 50 most populous coverage areas.

Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai was pleased with the requirements, calling them “aggressive and achievable.”

“Whoever you are and wherever you’re calling from, 911 has to work,” Pai said. “Your call needs to go through and emergency responders need to find you.”

The National Emergency Number Association called Thursday’s vote a “major step forward” in the ability to “quickly and accurately locate consumers who call 911 from wireless devices.”

“By working together with wireless carriers, the public safety community has succeeded in forging an agreement that will drive faster deployment of higher-accuracy location technologies,” the association said in an emailed statement. “With its emphasis on identifying a caller’s physical address, the new FCC policy will enable public safety professionals to serve the public with greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency than ever before.”

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Agencies, Federal Communications Commission
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