APCO Missing from Supporting Groups for FCC’s 9-1-1 Indoor Location Rules
Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | Comments

The FCC Nov. 18 released a statement outlining the various groups that support FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s draft order for indoor 9-1-1 call location rules, announced in October and set for a vote later this week, Nov. 22.

The draft order that would establish a vertical location accuracy metric of ±3 meters for indoor wireless 9-1-1 calls. While the statement includes 14 public-safety groups’ statements of support for the order, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), which has outlined numerous concerns with the proposed rules, is missing from the statement.

The draft order would establish a Z-axis location accuracy metric of 3 meters relative to the handset for 80% of indoor wireless 9-1-1 calls in the top 25 markets by April 3, 2021. Carriers would have to deploy Z-axis technology that meets this metric in the top 50 markets by April 3, 2023. The draft rules would also require wireless carriers to validate through testing that their Z-axis technology meets this metric and extend privacy protections to Z-axis data conveyed with 9-1-1 calls.

APCO officials said the order lets wireless carriers off the hook for several requirements they agreed to in 2015.

“The FCC will establish a requirement that is intended to ensure the height of a 9-1-1 caller is known within 3 meters for 80% of calls, expressed in ‘height above ellipsoid (HAE)’ which is a raw technical format for altitude,” said a summary of concerns on the APCO website. “So, instead of a floor number or even an estimated height above ground level, the information 9-1-1 would receive would read something like ‘76 meters height above ellipsoid, plus or minus 3 meters.’ During an emergency, this estimated height above ellipsoid has little to no value at all for 9-1-1 professionals, although the FCC seems to assume that responders in the field would have access to devices and apps that provide similar measurements that they can then try to match to the caller’s.”

APCO also noted that the rules apply only to the 25 largest metropolitan areas in 2021 and 50 largest in 2023 and will effectively mandate the use of one or two vendors. APCO also said major handset manufacturers such as Apple and Google will not support the specialized location technologies, and a large number of handsets will not even be covered by the rules.

Many 9-1-1 directors say carriers should at least be required to include an estimated floor number for 9-1-1 calls from indoors, APCO said. The summary sheet said the FCC is also wrong to assume first responders will have devices capable of measuring altitude as HAE.

“The goal has been to get carriers to provide more detailed location information such as an apartment number or at least the floor number, which would be more actionable for public safety,” said APCO. “Under the FCC’s proposal, carriers have no incentives to provide better information. This will lead to significant delays in emergency response, meaning fewer lives will be saved.”

The FCC’s statement said “public-safety groups support establishing a 3-meter Z-axis to better location 9-1-1 callers in multistory buildings.” The statement included quotes of support from the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and the Harris County, Texas, deputy emergency management coordinator, among others.

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