Apple and Google have added a potentially life-saving feature to iOS 12 and Android 4+ making it easier for 911 operators to locate callers who are using a wireless phone. The feature automatically and securely sends location data to emergency responders, allowing them to trace the exact whereabouts of those in need of aid and respond quickly to urgent situations.
“When they call 911, they expect help and they expect it to work fast and efficient,” explained Stephanie Estrada, an LAPD representative, to KTLA 5 News. “It really is going to save a life, and it is making our job easier.”
Both Google and Apple have leveraged a technology from a company called RapidSOS to trace wireless calls. When a user places a 911 emergency call, Google and Apple will route location data through RapidSOS to 911 call centers.
Benefits of RapidSOS
The benefits of this technology are fairly self-evident, because every second counts in an emergency and because those placing 911 calls are not always in a position to provide a street address.
Google and Apple have been automatically sending location data to 911 operators for some time now, using Emergency Location Services (ELS). However, RapidSOS’s internet-based technology allows them to do so more rapidly and with greater accuracy.
Whereas landlines have always been simple to trace, wireless calls present an issue when it comes to transmitting location data, stemming from the fact that estimating the location of a mobile device involves triangulating data from cell towers, GPS, and Wi-Fi hotspots.
This approach, known as Hybridized Emergency Location, presents a larger margin of error because its accuracy depends on how far apart the nearest cell towers are located. It also loses accuracy in dense urban environments that present more interference for GPS. So the advent of the mobile phone presented a problem for 911 call centers.
“Emergency Location Service in Android has made a profound impact on emergency response in the 15 countries where it is live today,” said RapidSOS CEO, Michael Martin in a press release. “This partnership between Google and RapidSOS puts life-saving data directly into the hands of 911 telecommunicators in the United States via modern NG911 mechanisms.”
“Many times, when wireless phones came out, we asked people to pull over and go to a pay phone so we could locate them,” Jeff Robertson of RapidSOS explained to KTLA 5 News about the rough location estimates. “Our mission at RapidSOS is to make that circle smaller to have an accurate location of the handset that’s calling.”
RapidSOS provides greater accuracy in tracing 911 calls by drawing data from a greater variety of sources. The technology “uses Bluetooth beacons, GPS, it uses wifi access points, it uses everything and it kind of combines it together,” Estrada notes.
In addition to Google and Apple, RapidSOS technology has been adopted by Uber. And currently, 50 percent of 911 centers across the nation have begun using RapidSOS’s solution, free of charge.