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FCC Advances Rules on Indoor 911 Location

Responding to demand from industry and advocacy groups, the Federal Communications Commission will pursue new standards that embrace new location technologies.

by / February 20, 2014

Nearly two-thirds of 911 calls are placed from cell phones, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and half of those calls originate indoors. But location information is often insufficient to quickly find callers, especially in large facilities. The FCC intends to fix that, and on Feb. 20 proposed new rules that could help first responders more quickly locate 911 callers indoors. 

The new rules that would require wireless providers to locate 911 callers more accurately than required by today’s standards, which were established in 1996 and last revised in 2010, and are based on 911 calls made outdoors. Because so many 911 calls are made from indoors -- and because land lines are increasingly being replaced by cell phones -- the FCC has called for wireless providers to give more metrics on 911 callers, such as vertical location information that would allow responders to identify which floor of a multi-story building the call originated from.

The FCC also recommended that accuracy standards be continually improved so that in the long-term, Enhanced 911 would become even more location accurate. Among the changes being considered by the FCC is whether to replace multiple location accuracy standards for handsets and networks with a single standard.

The FCC also encouraged public safety groups and businesses to work together to develop alternate proposals for its consideration. Among the groups pursuing innovation in this area is Find Me 911, a coalition of public safety organizations comprised of more than 175,000 individuals working to improve 911 as digital technology improves.

Find Me 911 Director Jamie Barnett said that the advancement of this FCC proposal will save lives. “Every dropped call or confused, scared, or unconscious caller is another unnecessary tragedy,” he said. “The rule will help ensure that 9-1-1 works for every caller, indoors and outdoors.”

The Find Me 911 website outlines several of the technologies used for 911 call location today as well as others in development. Those technologies include Uplink Time Difference of Arrival (U-TDOA), which computes location by measuring the response time of multiple cell towers, Terrestrial Beacon Transmitters, Advanced Forward Link Trilateration, and Digital Television Signals, which work in a similar fashion to U-TDOA, RF pattern matching, which computes location by measuring the signal strength received from multiple cell towers.

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