If the police don’t know where you are, they can’t stop the robbery. If the ambulance doesn’t know where you are, they can’t treat you and transport you to the hospital. If the fire department doesn’t know where you are, the flames will likely burn your building to the ground. But where the argument comes in, is exactly what does “where you are” mean?
When I’m in my house, and I call 9-1-1, ‘where I am’ is my street address of my residence. it’s not in the kitchen, or in the bedroom, or at the bottom of the stairs where I have “fallen, and can’t get up!”
There is been a large debate over cellular location accuracy, and while most public safety officials will agree that today, there is a reduced level of reality, when compared to perception, by the general public. Regardless of the reason, most citizens today believe that advanced cellular technology, the smart phones we all seem to carry, and the open and free access to the Internet will allow public safety specific, and even intimate, details about who you are, where you are, and what the environment that surrounds you is at the moment.
While there are certainly location accuracy issues that abound, and I don’t think that anyone on either side of the argument will deny that, the level of those inaccuracies will vary depending on who you talk too. In a recent op-ed piecepublished in the Cap Times, Ben Levitan, proclaiming himself as an expert in 9-1-1, chastised Larry Pakyz, on this op-ed piece he authored On November 5th.
While everyone has the right to disagree with anyone else, doing so in a public forum under the guise of a credentialed industry expert, is troubling. One of the statements that Mr. Leviton made was, “In an office building, 9-1-1 has always been a problem for landlines and for cellphones. You are still better off on a cellphone. At a minimum, the operator knows what cell tower to which you are connected and knows where that cell tower is located.” While I certainly can’t argue with his first sentence, where he correctly states that 9-1-1 has been problematic, I completely disagree with his second statement, stating that a tower location is “better off” for an emergency call taker, and a person who needs assistance.
Quite frankly, that statement is very disturbing. It is a well known fact that cellular location discovery technology for 9-1-1 services is only able to provide latitude and longitude (X, Y) at varying levels of accuracy depending on several different conditions. What it is not capable of providing, however, is likely the most desperately needed pieces of information, especially in a multi-story building. That information is the “Z”, or altitude of the device.
Without this important piece of information, in a 20 story building, the X,Y coordinates become almost irrelevant, as there would be 20 identical locations in that building. This will likely change the incident to be one that is a “recovery” and not a “rescue”. Despite that information, Mr. Levitan claims that the cellular tower location (which could be miles away) is actually “better than landline already”.
Although affected by several environmental conditions, it’s generally accepted that the range of a cellular base station is somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 yards or more. Taking that number and calculating the area of coverage, using the formula Pi = R², that works out to be 502,400 yd.², or nearly 104 acres. That certainly isn’t “better than landline”, and nowhere near acceptable, or a workable solution.
Enterprise location accuracy is about getting the 1st responders to the right building at the right address and then using situational awareness and on site notification to be prepared for their arrival and provide assistance, if you are able, and it is appropriate for you to do so. Understand the problem, before you provide the solution.
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.