Over the years, the American public has come to expect reliable 911 service. When citizens call 911, they're usually in a moment of great peril and require emergency assistance from their local fire department or law-enforcement agency.
Once on scene, arriving emergency responders must spend crucial minutes locating a person in need of aid. In the fire and emergency service, time is a critical component.
According to the NFPA, a career fire department is expected arrive for a full first-alarm response within eight minutes of being dispatched for 90% of all fire calls. In the field of EMS, it's important to arrive at the patient’s location and transport him or her to emergency care at the hospital within the Golden Hour.
Every minute spent searching a building for the location of a fire or a patient can affect the eventual outcome of the response.
The FCC’s Role in 911
There have been major changes in the wireless landscape since the FCC first adopted its wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) location-accuracy rules in 1996. Consumers are increasingly replacing traditional landline telephones with wireless phones, the majority of wireless calls are now made indoors and the majority of calls to 911 are from wireless phones.
This increases the likelihood that wireless 911 calls will come from indoor environments. 911 operators must spend critical time determining the location of the caller before they can dispatch aid.
In February 2014, the FCC released a notice to require delivery of accurate location information to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for wireless 911 calls placed from indoors.
In the short term, the FCC proposed establishing interim indoor-accuracy metrics that would provide approximate location information that is sufficient to identify the building of most indoor calls. These metrics would also provide vertical location (z-axis, or elevation) information to help first responders identify the floor level for most calls from multi-story buildings.
In the long term, the FCC sought views on how to develop more granular indoor-location accuracy requirements that would provide for delivery to PSAPs of in-building location information at the room or office-suite level.
The FCC also sought comment on other steps the Commission should take to strengthen existing E911 location accuracy rules to ensure delivery of more timely, accurate and actionable location information for all 911 calls.
The FCC’s ultimate objective is that all Americans using mobile phones, whether calling from urban or rural areas, from indoors or outdoors, will have technology that can provide accurate location information.
The IAFC Role in the Process
The IAFC, through the Communications Committee, has been actively involved in this process. We filed comments throughout the public-safety comment rounds and met with the FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Chief G. Keith Bryant, IAFC president and chairman of the board, spoke at the open hearing where the FCC Commissioners voted to issue the order.
We worked closely in a coalition with other frontline first responder groups, such as the International Association of Police Chiefs, the National Sheriffs Association, the National Association of State EMS Officials and the National Volunteer Fire Council.
The FCC Order
After many rounds of public comment, the FCC held an open meeting on January 29. At the meeting, Chief Bryant emphasized the criticality of the issue and the need for the FCC to issue rules governing the process and for oversight of the process by the FCC.
On February 3, the FCC issued Order 15-9, addressing the multiple issues surrounding E911 and setting forth many requirements. Its goal is for carriers to be able to provide a dispatchable location—a caller's verified or corroborated street address plus information such as floor, suite, apartment or similar information needed to identify the caller's location. In many ways, the order sets forth requirements to be met without details on how to meet those requirements. Review an executive summary of the FCC order on 911 location accuracy (PDF).
The FCC’s order is based on a roadmap agreement entered into between the four major wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, with the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). The roadmap provides the timelines and steps to be taken to meet the order’s requirements.
The order also includes backstops where dispatchable location may not be obtainable. There is a horizontal accuracy standard of 50 meters in the event a dispatchable location is unavailable.
The FCC’s timelines run from 2 years for 40% of all wireless calls to 6 years for 80%.
The order also includes a vertical-location requirement in the event a dispatchable location is unavailable. The z-axis is viewed as being critical to the fire and emergency services.
The FCC order requires the carrier to provide uncompensated barometric data to PSAPs within three years from any handset that has the capability of delivering barometric sensor data.
Within six years, carriers will have to either meet the dispatchable-location benchmark or deploy z-axis technologies in the top 25 CMAs and cover 80% of the population in those CMAs.
Within eight years, the same requirements need to cover the top 50 CMAs. The same requirements will apply to non-nationwide carriers, but the benchmarks are extended to seven and nine years.