FCC Adopts Rules to Help Responders Better Locate Wireless 911 Callers
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January 29, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules to help emergency responders better locate wireless callers to 911.

The Commission says that these updates to its Enhanced 911 (E911) rules respond to Americans' increasing use of wireless phones to call 911, especially from indoors, where traditional 911 location technologies often do not work effectively or at all. The Commission says that the new rules take advantage of technological developments that will allow for more accurate location information to be transmitted with indoor 911 calls.

The FCC's E911 rules require wireless providers to automatically transmit to 911 call centers information on the location of wireless 911 callers, within certain parameters for accuracy. These rules, which were adopted in 1996 and underwent their last major revision in 2010, enabled wireless providers to meet this accuracy standard based solely on the measured performance of outdoor wireless 911 calls.

However, calling habits, the Commission says, are changing. "Many Americans are replacing landlines with wireless phones, with more than two out of five U.S. households now relying solely on wireless. Most 911 calls are currently made from wireless phones, and most wireless calls are made from indoors. This increases the likelihood that wireless 911 calls will come from indoor environments where traditional location accuracy technologies, optimized for outdoor calling, may not work," the Commission said in a press release.

To close this gap in performance, the FCC has updated its E911 rules to include requirements focused on indoor location accuracy. The new rules, the Commission says, are intended to help first responders locate Americans calling for help from indoors, including challenging environments such as large multi-story buildings, where responders are often unable to determine the floor or even the building where the 911 call originated.

The new rules establish clear and measureable timelines for wireless providers to meet indoor location accuracy benchmarks, both for horizontal and vertical location information. The Commission noted that no single technological approach will solve the challenge of indoor location, and no solution can be implemented overnight. The new requirements therefore enable wireless providers to choose the most effective solutions and allow sufficient time for development of applicable standards, establishment of testing mechanisms, and deployment of new location technology.

The FCC says the new rules were informed by extensive input from stakeholders, including public safety organizations, wireless providers, technology vendors, state and local governments, and public interest groups.

The Commission says that its ultimate objective in updating the E911 rules is for all Americans – whether they are calling 911 from urban or rural areas, from indoors or outdoors – to receive the support they need in times of emergency.

Find out more about the FCC's Enhanced 911 (E911) rules.