FCC Builds on Efforts to Quickly Locate 9-1-1 Callers in Multi-Story Buildings

1219px-FCC_New_Logo.svgThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today built on its efforts to help first responders quickly locate people who call 911 from wireless phones in multi-story buildings. Today’s action affirms Commission rules that will help emergency responders determine the floor level of wireless 911 callers in the nation’s largest markets and extends those requirements nationwide to benefit all Americans, which it says will “reduce response times and ultimately save lives.”

The Commission’s Enhanced 9-1-1 rules require wireless providers to transmit to 9-1-1 call centers information on the location of wireless 9-1-1 calls. Wireless providers are also required to meet an increasingly stringent series of location accuracy benchmarks in accordance with a timetable, including providing the caller’s dispatchable location (such as the street address and apartment number) or coordinate-based height-above-ellipsoid (HAE) data in order to identify a caller’s vertical location (“z-axis”).

In November 2019, the Commission established the z-axis location accuracy metric as plus or minus three meters relative to the handset for 80 percent of indoor wireless 911 calls. Nationwide wireless providers must meet April 2021 and April 2023 deadlines for deploying z-axis technology, which must comply with the metric for accuracy, in the top 25 and 50 markets, respectively.

Nationwide wireless providers must meet April 2021 and April 2023 deadlines for deploying z-axis technology, which must comply with the metric for accuracy, in the top 25 and 50 markets, respectively.

According to an FCC press release:

In the Order adopted today, the Commission affirmed the 2021 and 2023 z-axis requirements, rejecting a proposal to weaken them.  The Commission added a new requirement that nationwide wireless providers deploy z-axis technology nationwide by April 2025, while affording non-nationwide wireless providers an additional year (i.e., until April 2026) to do so within their service areas.

To give wireless providers additional flexibility in meeting these requirements while still advancing critical public safety objectives, the Commission allowed providers to deploy technologies that focus on multi-story buildings, where vertical location information is most vital to first responders.  The Commission also required wireless providers, beginning in January 2022, to provide dispatchable location with wireless 911 calls when it is technically feasible and cost-effective to do so, which will promote consistency in the Commission’s 911 rules across technology platforms.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International has criticized the z-axis location accuracy metric, saying “the rules will not only fail to produce meaningful improvements, but the FCC will also let wireless carriers continue to avoid pursuing much better options for 9-1-1 location accuracy.”

APCO is concerned that HAE estimates will not provide actionable information for first responders. Instead, APCO says wireless carriers should be required to provide the floor that the caller is believed to be on in the particular building from which the call is originating.

Maryland is accelerating its move toward the deployment of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) system – which will make public safety both more effective and more responsive by improving wireless caller location, accommodating incoming text/video, and managing crisis-driven call overflows.

The Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative, continues to meet and make recommendations for the implementation, technology, funding, governance, and ongoing statewide development of NG911.

As a result of the Commission’s work, the Governor last year signed into law SB 339/ HB 397, Public Safety – 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System (Carl Henn’s Law), a 2019 MACo Legislative Initiative to update state laws, and the 9-1-1 financing system to provide the flexibility and resources needed for the deployment of a statewide NG911 network.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

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