Why Your Apps Can Find You, But 911 Can’t Until They Get Help from Apps

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Smartphone apps can usually find users quickly and effortlessly, but 911 is often less accurate at finding callers from their cell phones. WSJ’s Spencer Macnaughton explains the limitations of current call centers, and how tech companies have set out to make 911 services more precise. Photo composite: Heather Seidel/The Wall Street Journal

Cell phone tower triangulation data and GPS integration can result in ground truth accuracy as weak as 120 meters, and can take as long as 30 seconds.

RapidSOS, founded in 2012 by Michael Martin and Nicholas Horelik, is working to improve location accuracy and speed in 9-1-1 centers by pairing with Internet of Things companies (including Uber apps and other apps that use location services) to develop and publish various rapid and accurate products for public safety officials and centers.

RapidSOS + NG911 Clearinghouse has reduced the average pinpointing of a callers location to about 36 meters to 50 meters.

RapidSOS is a multi-million technology company with software deployed at about 2,000 of 5,700 911 Call Centers, serving about 60 percent of Americans. During the summer and fall of 2018, Northwest Central Dispatch System 9-1-1 center was working with their phone vendor to be able to automatically receive the enhanced data from RapidSOS. RapidSOS works with Apple iOS 12 and later. RapidSOS is also working with Android Emergency Location Service (ELS) location technology for increased accuracy and speed of delivery of 911 calls.

RapidSOS has a service available known as RapidLite that works when a telecommunicator enters a 911 caller’s phone number in an Internet browser. RapidLite uses a secure browser connection and doesn’t require any new hardware or software. RapidLite receives device location and more from the NG911 Clearinghouse, but it doesn’t work automatically the way that the fully-integrated RapidSOS works.

Any authorized PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) can use RapidLite, regardless of what call-taking, CAD (computer-aided dispatcher), or mapping product a 911 call center currently uses.

In order to solve the vertical problem of locating a 9-1-1 caller, Polaris Wireless is using the barometer sensor in the latest smartphones to help locate the vertical location or altitude of a caller. Early tests have found that Polaris Wireless can locate callers vertically within 2.8 meters 80% of the time. Polaris Wireless is not yet integrated with any 911 call centers.

The speed at which a 9-1-1 center can find your location depends on where you live, what wireless carrier you use, and the capability of the 911 call center.

RapidSOS has working relations with Apple, Uber, Waze and other Internet of Things companies.

RapidSOS provides a rich data link from any connected device to 911 and first responders.

RapidSOS 911 Testimonials.


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