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FCC Wants Mobile Carriers to Help Save Lives From the Ground Floor to the Penthouse

When emergency personnel respond to a 911 call in a multi-story building, they lose time and, possibly, lives when they don’t have an exact location for the caller. A new FCC proposal for carriers to provide vertical location data, would make those calls easier, and hopefully save lives.

When someone calls 911 from their smartphone, wireless carriers provide operators with a dispatchable location, which is an approximate address, and in some cases, even an apartment number. The new proposal would require wireless companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, to also provide vertical location data, which would allow emergency personnel to know which floor a person is on in a high-rise building, with a radius of three meters.

The idea has been in discussion for a while, but the FCC held off on making the proposal until testing was completed on a vertical location accuracy metric, according to a news release. The FCC added that it needs wireless carriers on board with the idea, which would “reduce emergency response times and ultimately save lives.” The proposal calls for vertical location data to begin on a phased-in basis by April 2021.

Matthew Gerst, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, the industry group representing the wireless carriers, said the group is “encouraged by the FCC’s efforts to provide certainty around expectations and requirements to deliver vertical location information.”

“Wireless providers have made significant progress enhancing 9-1-1 location accuracy capabilities and continue to develop and evaluate innovative solutions,” Gerst added in a statement.

The FCC has also helped to modernize the 911 system by encouraging communities to accept text messages as another way to reach 911 operators. If a community does not have text-to-911 capability, the sender will receive a bounce back message. While many still aren’t set up to receive emergency texts, the FCC keeps a monthly updated list showing which communities can accept texts in the event of an emergency.