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Some 80% of emergency 911 calls in the US are made from cellphones, and current technology relies on cell towers to give an approximation of where the calls are coming from. That information is updated every 25 seconds or so, meaning potentially minutes before a precise location is determined. A new technology will supply the precise caller location immediately, entirely changing the way first responders are able to respond to that emergency call.
The technology is now tested at the call center of Princeton University’s Department of Public Safety. “If somebody has a medical emergency, for example, and they’re on campus, minutes count when it comes to a medical emergency. And it allows us to be able to quickly and accurately identify where they are and we’re able to get resources moving their direction immediately, instead of waiting for them to describe where they’re at,” said Keller Taylor, infrastructure operations manager at Prince University’s Department of Public Safety.
Princeton University has over 200 buildings with only a small locator in the front. That can make it hard for a frantic 911 caller to communicate their exact location, according to njtvonline.org.
“We’re able to actually identify precisely where they’re at,” said Taylor. “And actually zoom in and within the building we can identify if they’re at the front of the building or in the middle of the building.”
When Apple releases its iOS 12 software later this year, it will include GPS location that activates when a caller dials 911. Once the RapidSOS data is live in the system, the location appearing on the screen will be pinpoint accurate, using data directly from the caller’s phone. Dispatchers will receive x and y and soon z coordinates (latitude, longitude and height — the latter of which is essential in determining on which floor a caller is situated in a multi-story building), according to Princeton’s website.
The technology is free for call centers who want to take advantage of it. And individual users will be able to opt-out of the GPS service.
Regarding privacy, Taylor says locations will only be available when users call 911. “We only get information from that caller when the call is received, and it ends when that call is terminated,” Taylor said.