FCC Will Consider Measure to Assist First Responders

By: Henry Rademacher

Later this month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider new rules to help first responders more accurately locate callers in multi-story buildings.

According to the proposal, “Improving Wireless 911 Location Accuracy in Multi-Story Buildings”, the new rules would “reduce emergency response times and ultimately save lives by enabling 911 call centers and first responders to more accurately identify the floor level for wireless 911 calls made from multi-story buildings.” 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has described the difficulty that first responders face when they are unable to identify the vertical location of a caller as a “critical gap” in the 911 system. When someone calls 911 from a multi-story building and gives their address without specifying the floor number, first responders likely to have to spend additional time determining the caller’s exact location. In dire situations, such as a fire or heart attack, a few moments can be the difference between life and death. This proposal could help save lives.

The FCC’s report and order would “adopt a z-axis accuracy metric of plus or minus 3 meters for 80 percent of wireless E911 calls from z-axis capable handsets,” meaning that callers’ locations will be much more accurate. The FCC has studied the issue for years and believes that the proposed accuracy standard is feasible for wireless providers. Carriers would be required to deploy the technology in the top 25 and top 50 cellular markets by 2021 and 2023, respectively.

Apartment buildings, office buildings and hotels are almost always multi-story buildings. The FCC taking steps to assist first responders in identifying the vertical location of distressed individuals is a logical move to improve public safety infrastructure. The proposed rules have drawn widespread support from public safety organizations, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Chiefs of Police and National Sheriffs’ Association.

The FCC will vote on the proposal at its open commission meeting on November 19.

Photo Credit: Paul O’Rear (flickr)