First responders

Separate but Not Equal

When you call 911 from a landline, your address automatically pops up on a 911 operator's screen. So, even if you are unable to communicate, or don't know your location, emergency responders know where to find you. Cell phones don't work the same.

Cell phones pose unique challenges for summoning emergency help because they are not associated with a specific address. If you are unable to communicate your location, public safety operators can only rely on the nearest cell towers to triangulate the general location of the call.

The Federal Communications Commission mandates public safety answering points to narrow a mobile 911 caller's location within 50 to 150 meters. However, real-world results produce ranges of 300 meters. With such limited information, emergency responders face challenges, particularly in multistory buildings, dense cities and college campuses.

This unreliable method can lead to delayed emergency response times. Millions of Americans have disconnected their land lines and exclusively use cell phones. Public safety personnel estimate 50 percent of 911 calls originate from cell phones, and that number is on the rise.

New Regulations

With public safety in mind, the FCC has adopted rules to better locate wireless 911 calls. Wireless service providers must:

  • Transmit all 911 calls to a public service answering point, regardless of whether the caller subscribes to the provider's service or not.
  • Provide the PSAP with the telephone number of the originator of a wireless 911 call and the location of the cell site or base station transmitting the call within six months of a valid request.
  • By Sept. 11, 2012, provide even more precise location information, specifically, information accurate to the closest PSAP. The FCC established a five-year phase-in period for this requirement to allow wireless service providers more time to develop this capability. Wireless service providers must report to the FCC annually on their progress in supplying this more accurate location information.

Help is on the Way

Until these regulations are adopted nationwide, there exists a solution to merge the disconnect. E911WERX from WirelessWERX delivers the exact address, building name, floor and room number of a wireless 911 caller. The solution pinpoints locations to within 10 meters.

When an apartment building or school dorm is monitored by SiteWERX, the wireless network, nodes containing detailed location information are installed throughout the building and in each unit. One node covers approximately 3,000 square feet. Residents download a WirelessWERX app to a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, which pings the node when a 911 call is made. The node transmits the location information to the PSAP, allowing emergency responders to arrive promptly.

Only the Beginning

The forward-thinking management of University Lofts, a private apartment building catering to University of Denver students, is aware that many young people now increasingly rely on cell phones as their sole means of communication. To provide a safer environment for residents, the apartment has implemented SiteWERX to give residents peace of mind.

"Many of our residents are students and their mobile phone is their primary communication device," said Pat Barron, developer of University Lofts. "We saw that SiteWERX could enhance our residents' security by transmitting exact location data from mobile phones to emergency responders, and we wanted to be the first to provide the service to our residents. We're committed to creating the safest environment we can for our residents and are proud to be on the leading edge of technology."

University Lofts offers SiteWERX free to its residents. The network connects directly into the Denver 911 police center and is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The solution also allows 911 operators to send communications directly to residents' cell phones via voice, text or SMS, notifying them of emergencies and allowing them to evacuate an area quickly.

"We are excited to work with University Lofts to create the safest environment possible for their residents," said Steve Artim, CEO of WirelessWERX, in a press release. "SiteWERX will give residents the additional peace of mind of knowing that when they need emergency assistance, help can get to them as quickly as possible."

About the Author

Sherleen Mahoney is a Web managing editor at 1105 Media.

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