On Monday, September 17, 2018, the very first nail in the coffin of the legacy 911 network will be firmly planted and driven home. Apple is set to release iOS 12 that contained several new features and enhancements, one of them being “EES,” Enhanced Emergency Services. In a white paper published in August of this year, Apple announced their Hybridized Emergency Location (HELo) technology providing precise, high integrity location data to 911 centers.
The white paper states, “Apple devices contain a variety of location sensors. […] Apple devices can “fuse” information from various sensors, such is [GPS] and Wi-Fi. [The technology provides] a low uncertainty, high integrity estimate of the devices location.”
As it was in the past
HELo is a radical and revolutionary step forward. Currently, the only source for location on a cellular device has been the wireless carriers, who provide this location information through often very inaccurate triangulation calculations. These give much less precise location information, or even worse, merely the cell tower handling the call. This causes a significant problem for those who cannot communicate precisely where they are because they either don’t know or are not capable of speaking. This is a problem for the deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as for individuals with speech disabilities. These individuals are forced through relay centers, outside of the 911 network, that have zero visibility into any location information.
As it will be going forward
HELo is the United States adaptation, of a technology that’s been operating in the European Union for a few years, called AML (Advanced Mobile Location) and operating on Android devices since last year. The concept is simple and initiated initially by John Medland at BT in England. HELo, AML operate nearly the same, conceptually, and even the European eCall (the EU version of OnStar) initiative follows a similar approach on the backend consumption of the data.
How it works
When your cellular device initiates an emergency call, the voice call is sent to the legacy 911 network as it is today. The wireless carrier uses the cell tower information to route your request to the closest Public Safety Answer Point or 911 PSAP. At the exact same time, HELo takes the location data from your phone (the precise same location data that Uber and Domino’s uses in their app) and places that in a National NexGen 911 Clearinghouse Data Repository with your telephone number as the index reference. When the 911 center gets your emergency call, they initiate the standard database queries to the carrier and are displayed the legacy location parameters, but many 911 desktop application providers have added the functionality to immediately make a secondary query to the National NexGen 911 Clearinghouse Database. The location from that response is often exact and considered to be “high fidelity”. The 911 call taker gets a second plot displayed on their display along with the original location accuracy estimates from the carrier.
Where it will work
While native support for EED will be available to compatible Apple devices when they do the free software update to iOS 12, some carrier networks may block or impair the service from operating as designed. For example, not all networks support simultaneous voice and data. So, if a carrier prevents the outbound data connection, the device would only be able to communicate the location payload over a Wi-Fi connection. I experienced this phenomenon two years ago when Avaya was testing similar technology being accessed through HTML 5. Our initial tests went perfectly, but we happened to make a check in an area where my connection was downgraded from LTE to 3G. Under these conditions, my carrier blocked external data connections during a voice call that was an emergency. It was a perfect example of legacy thinking bubbling through current technology impeding innovation. I had to actually file formal complaints with the FCC against several carrier networks to get this practice changed and removed, under the basis that it had no merit in today’s environment.
Privacy – Everyone’s concern
I am sure that Apple is going to maintain confidentiality and security as a core value. Apple has stated that they will take “extra steps to ensure that our products and services protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our users data during an emergency call.” to enforce this stance on the issue, Apple plans to use Geofiltering to minimize the potential for disclosure even to trusted parties that are not associated with the incident. Also, if the PSAP servicing the user’s location has not opted in to receive this new information, the data is dropped and not stored.
Security – Data Encryption
Data between the user’s device, the RapidSOS clearinghouse database, and the PSAP is all encrypted with strong ciphers and long keys. Additionally, the data remains encrypted while in transit, and even at rest in the databases.
To prevent a future data breach from yielding information about previous events, Apple discards all data that fails to match geolocation criteria of a PSAP servicing that location, and all data is deleted after 12 hours. Any information that is sent to the RapidSOS clearinghouse database follows the same guidelines. Any data that is ultimately transmitted to a PSAP, state and local records retention laws apply and are up to the receiving agency to enforce as with all data they received today.
Thanks – Not for me . . .
I sat racking my brain trying to figure out a reason why you would NOT want this service activated, but unfortunately, came up blank. Even with that being the case, Apple has provided an opt-out capability, and EED, although enabled by default, can be easily deactivated and disabled in the settings app of an iOS device at any time.
While this new capability is currently limited to Apple iOS 12 devices, this puts in place a key component for next-generation emergency services in the United States. The National NG 911 Clearinghouse, officially known as an ADR (additional data repository) is a crucial element in the transition from the legacy network to next-generation 911 capabilities for all devices. This element must exist for originating devices to place their data in and will serve as a DMZ boundary for PSAP’s to reliably trust adding explicit information to emergency call events.
While the legacy 911 databases remain an essential source of information today, the implementation of architectures like this allows intelligent networks and devices with relevant information not only about the location but situational awareness of the environment, to now have a mechanism and pathway to public safety first responders that can utilize this information.
Knowing that Mark Fletcher sits at cube 2C – 231 is irrelevant information that isn’t actionable because first responders have no idea where that is without a map of my building. Now I can provide them with a floor plan, as well as the fact that it’s 185° at that location. Hmmmm . . . That’s a little warm. Maybe something’s on fire?
That’s actionable data, and worth formulating a system to collect, correlate and propagate to public safety.