U.K. Companies Deploy New Location System to Track Emergency Callers (11/7/14)
Friday, November 07, 2014 | Comments

A new service developed by British Telecom (BT), EE and HTC can pinpoint the source of 9-9-9 emergency calls from mobile phones 4,000 times more accurately than the current system — to a radius of 30 meters or less — crucially cutting the handling time for the emergency services.

The new geographical location system, called Advanced Mobile Location (AML), can identify the source of a mobile phone emergency call to within 0.003 square kilometers, less than half the size of a football pitch, instead of several square kilometers.

About 60 percent of 9-9-9 and 1-1-2 calls in the U.K. are now made from a mobile, all of which are handled by BT call centers. Emergency services are only able to identify approximate locations of callers to within a few square kilometers. As a result:

• 9-9-9 calls from a mobile take 30 seconds longer to handle on average than calls from landlines; it can take three minutes of extra questioning of often stressed or injured victims to determine the location.

• In an estimated 36,000 critical incidents reported by mobile every year, the emergency services spend 30 minutes or more searching for the location.

• In around 330,000 emergency calls a year, the caller is unable to speak to the operator. Having only imprecise cell information for the location when the call is from a mobile can prevent the emergency services from responding.

When an emergency call is made with an AML-enabled smartphone, the phone automatically activates its location service and sends its position by text message to the 9-9-9 service — on average within 18 seconds. This text message is not visible on the handset and is free. The text is automatically matched to the voice call and compared with the network’s cell-based information to ensure it is valid. The location is then sent to the appropriate emergency service, supplementing the cell-based information.

“I’m delighted to see this development,” said Sue Lampard, president of British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO). “The 9-9-9 service has remained voice-centric since 1937 — whilst multimedia technology has developed around it. In the 21st century it is hard to believe that the U.K. emergency services are unable to receive good location data; they are reliant on the caller to tell them. Invariably during a 9-9-9 call, the caller will be distressed, so trying to pinpoint their location adds unnecessary time before resources can be deployed.

Developed by BT, EE and HTC working closely during the past 12 months, AML is currently available for emergency calls made on the EE network on all new HTC phones. The three companies have been working together with the other U.K. mobile networks so that the same approach can be used by all networks and manufacturers free. It is expected that it will be available on HTC handsets on other networks shortly, and a number of other handset manufacturers have started to develop it for models to be introduced in the near future.

“This is a major breakthrough and will undoubtedly help save lives,” said John Medland, BT’s 9-9-9 policy manager. “It is obviously vital for the emergency services to get fast, accurate information so they can pinpoint where an incident is and provide help as quickly as possible. AML will help to cut response times, particularly for calls where there is only minimal location information. We’re really looking forward to the other mobile networks and manufacturers making this available too and are working with all U.K. mobile networks to help this happen.”

There is also interest in AML from other countries in Europe, where there is the same challenge to find mobile emergency callers more quickly. U.S. telecom regulator FCC is also considering more stringent location technology requirements for emergency calls.

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