New tech could find a 911 mobile caller’s exact location in a building

It’s the first question you hear when you call 911: “Where is your emergency?”

New technology is taking the guesswork out of the answer. When Apple releases its iOS 12 software later this year, it will include GPS location that activates when a caller dials 911.

“The new technology gives us precise caller location immediately at the time the call is answered, which is not something that we have today,” said Keller Taylor, infrastructure operations manager at Prince University’s Department of Public Safety.

Princeton University’s Department of Public Safety is already testing the technology at its call center. Taylor says it will revolutionize the way they reach those who need help.

“If somebody has a medical emergency, for example, and they’re on campus, minutes count when it comes to a medical emergency. And it allows us to be able to quickly and accurately identify where they are and we’re able to get resources moving their direction immediately, instead of waiting for them to describe where they’re at,” said Taylor.

Princeton University has over 200 buildings with only small locator in the front. That can make it hard for a frantic 911 caller to communicate their exact location.

Eighty percent of emergency calls are made from cellphones, and current technology relies on cell towers to give an approximation of where the calls are coming from. That information is updated every 25 seconds or so, meaning potentially minutes before a precise location is determined.

This technology is entirely changing the way first responders are able to respond to that emergency call.

“If you can imagine, this caller has placed a call for assistance. They’re trying to describe where they’re at, but they really, truly, don’t know. We’re able to actually identify precisely where they’re at,” said Taylor. “And again, with the mapping put in place at the university, we can actually zoom in and within the building we can identify if they’re at the front of the building or in the middle of the building.”

A second phase of the GPS mapping will identify what floor of a building the caller is on, but that won’t be available when the iOS 12 software is released. And if you’re worried about privacy issues, Taylor says locations will only be available when users call 911.

“We only get information from that caller when the call is received, and it ends when that call is terminated,” Taylor said.

The technology is free for call centers who want to take advantage of it. And individual users will be able to opt-out of the GPS service.