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New Location Software Makes Finding 911 Cellphone Callers Easier

Before RapidSOS, most calls to 911 from cellphones used triangulation between cellphone towers to get callers' locations. Factors, like the number of towers in an area, could prevent narrowing down a caller's location.

by Cass Rains, Enid News & Eagle, Okla. / July 1, 2019

(TNS) — Enid Police Department's 911 dispatchers are getting more accurate locations for cellphone users calling 911 via the RapidSOS software used in the center.

Lt. Warren Wilson said the software is able to pinpoint callers using iPhones with iOS 12+ and Android phones version 4.0+, decreasing response times for emergency personnel dispatched to 911 calls.

Wilson said last year, the 911 center received about 19,000 calls from those using cellphones, compared to about 7,000 who called 911 using a landline. He said there is a trend for increasing amounts of calls from cellphone users and fewer calls from land lines.

The nation's 50-year-old legacy 911 center was designed for landline and provides almost no data to first responders beside a voice-only connection. Through the RapidSOS system, data is sent not only from Apple and Andriod phones, but from apps such as Uber, wearables such as smartwatches and Wi-Fi-connected homes and cars.

"It’s going from hundreds of feet down to possible 4 or 5 feet. Not always, because its still contingent upon how many sources of information it has to bid for that," Wilson said. "When we send officers to an area, almost everybody is using cellphones. The area gets smaller and smaller the more information RapidSOS gets for us."

Prior to the update to RapidSOS, most calls to 911 from cellphones used triangulation between cellphone towers to obtain a caller's locations. Factors, such as the number of towers in an area, could prevent narrowing down a caller's location to a manageable area.

"It closes that area of uncertainty. It’s going to be in that area somewhere," Wilson said. "Using Wifi and GPS closes that area of uncertainty drastically."

He said users of RapidSOS used to need an app on their cellphone for the technology to work with call centers but newer and updated phones work automatically with the system. He said the system also works better when there are more inputs from Wi-Fi sources and apps on the caller's phone. Callers must have their location setting for their phones turned on to work.

"The higher the population density, the more information it is going to gather," he said. "If you have your Wi-Fi off, you’re back to using cellphone triangulation."

The system is also beneficial when a cellphone user calls 911 but cannot communicate with a dispatcher, when callers are unaware of their location or if there is a language or communication barrier.

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©2019 the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.)

Visit the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.) at www.enidnews.com

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