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Leading by Example—T-Mobile Steps Up for Public Safety

This year was plagued by much hardship and sorrow, yet heartwarming stories and demonstrations of great leadership abound. From the heroic frontline workers battling the coronavirus to the pharmaceutical companies’ development of life-changing vaccines in record time, leaders are rising to the challenges. Similarly, the public safety community has had its fair share of challenges in 2020, especially those related to implementing Next Generation 911 and its life-saving capabilities, but now, as we wind down the year, an unsuspecting leader in public safety has emerged—T‑Mobile.

Google and Apple and Text-to-911: Let's Keep the Faith

Few things are as maddening as when a software release is issued and almost immediately the developer is pushing out patches. But that’s just the way it is with technology—things often don’t always work the way they’re supposed to right away.

Recently we’ve been hearing about problems associated with a new feature of Apple’s iPhone operating system (iOS) that reportedly has been generating a lot of abandoned 911 calls. The Emergency SOS feature enables citizens to place an emergency call without actually dialing 911; those designated as emergency contacts also will be alerted.

The Five Biggest Takeaways from This Year’s NENA Conference

If you didn’t travel to Orlando last week for the annual National Emergency Number Association (NENA) conference, it can be summed up with one word: progress. The key themes were industry advancement and innovation with several game-changing technologies and initiatives being launched.

NENA Conference and MCP's MAPS Program Will Help Prepare You for What's Coming

After taking a look at the breakout sessions scheduled for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) trade show and conference—which will be held June 14-19 in Orlando—a clear theme immediately emerged: preparing the nation’s 911 centers for what’s coming next.

And there’s a lot coming. 

Cautious Optimism Surrounds CTIA Announcement Regarding Improving 911 Location Accuracy

Last week was a great week for public safety—at least we think it was. Let me explain.

CTIA, the trade association that represents wireless communications carriers, announced that the four largest nationwide wireless carriers in the United States—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—will integrate device-based hybrid (DBH) location solutions into their networks. DBH technology has evolved rapidly, and trials have shown that they deliver location information much faster and much more accurately than the Wireless Phase II data delivered by the location technologies currently employed by the carriers.

To date in the United States, device-based hybrid location technology comes in two flavors: Hybridized Emergency Location (HELO) developed for Apple’s iPhone operating system and Emergency Location Service (ELS) developed for Google’s Android OS. Both technologies aggregate numerous data sources—e.g., the Global Positioning System (GPS), Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi hotspots, data from mapping/navigation applications, and activity-based apps—to deliver more-accurate location data, particularly indoors, for 911 calls made from smartphones.

Leveraging Social Media Data in Charleston County, SC

Recent history has shown that, when 911 becomes overwhelmed, citizens turn to social media in an effort to have their pleas for help heard.

Last fall, Texans trapped in homes flooded by Hurricane Harvey used the social radio network app Zello to contact the volunteer Cajun Navy fleet and posted their addresses on Facebook and Twitter to aide emergency medical services in locating them. After a 7.1 magnitude earthquake collapsed buildings in Mexico City, volunteers used WhatsApp to recruit and mobilize informal search and rescue teams before the army, navy and civil protection units were mobilized. When wild fires destroyed parts of California over the course of several months, many turned to social media to plead for help locating missing loved ones and to mark themselves as “safe” using Facebook’s Crisis Response feature when they could not reach friends and relatives.

Five Takeaways from the 2018 NENA Conference

The 2018 NENA Conference may have been the best yet. Combine Nashville, thousands of emergency communications professionals sharing ideas and experiences, and more than ninety hours of breakout sessions and you have the framework for true movement in the industry.

And we did have movement.

iOS 12 will help save time and lives: By far the hottest topic was the national headline-generating announcement from Apple and RapidSOS.  Apple’s new iOS 12 – launching later this year – will automatically and securely share its HELO location data via the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse. HELO is Apple’s Hybridized Emergency Location application which estimates a mobile 911 caller’s location using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and WIFI Access Points.

The move opens up accurate location data for 911 callers who are among the 85 million iPhone users in the U.S. – nearly 43% of the total smartphone market. The step is a significant one and one that MCP believes will result in faster and more accurate information to help reduce emergency response times once available to PSAPs.

MCP Urges FCC to Promote Uniform Adoption of Location-Based Routing Technologies

On March 22, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a notice of inquiry about how to route 911 calls to the proper call center faster and what the public should expect when calling 911 from a wireless device.

911 centers continue to struggle with location accuracy. The problem has been the subject of intense media scrutiny of late. The key question: why smartphone applications provide better location information than that received by 911 centers.

This negative media attention is well-warranted. Emergency call misroutes occur in great volumes across the U.S. every day. Misroutes, or misrouted calls, are 911 calls that are received by one PSAP and then transferred to another. However, it is important to note that the “misroutes” that are the subject of the FCC's recent inquiry mostly result from current 911 call routing mechanisms that rely on a cell tower location working as designed, not from technical failure of those mechanisms.

MCP has witnessed this firsthand in two states where we have conducted wireless integrity testing. In one county, we witnessed an astonishing error rate—38 percent of all test calls were misrouted. With wireless devices generating 80 percent of 911 calls across the nation, with some states experiencing up to 90 percent, emergency call misroutes literally are a life-and-death problem.

911’s 50th Anniversary Wish List: Advanced Mobile Location

Three weeks ago, my colleague, John Chiaramonte, made an impassioned plea to the four major wireless carriers. He asked them to serve the critical needs of the 911 sector and all those who dial those digits in their time of greatest need by turning on Advanced Mobile Location (AML)—now.  Today, on the 50th Anniversary of 911, I am delighted to write about an alternate solution to getting life-saving enhanced location technology into the hands of the telecommunicator.

Yesterday afternoon, RapidSOS released the results from its NG911 Clearinghouse Android Emergency Location Services (ELS) Pilot Project held last month in three jurisdictions across the United States: Collier County, Florida, North Central Texas, and Loudon County, Tennessee.  Each represents a variety of topography and population, as well as integration with an assortment of existing public safety answering point (PSAP) software.

When It Comes To FirstNet and NG911 Convergence is the Key To Success

“Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.” – Steve Jobs

Our nation’s 911 centers, the nexus of citizens who need help and our dedicated first responders, are on the brink of a major evolution. Some would say that it is on a level similar to how the iPhone revolutionized mobile communications a decade ago. 

The foundation currently is being laid for end-to-end Internet Protocol (IP) communications from the caller (or sensor) all the way through to the first responders in the field. Freed from the limitations of 512 characters (or less) of emergency caller data, the 911 sector will integrate systems and networks previously impeded by proprietary protocols and siloed networks. 

The convergence of Next Generation 911 (NG911) and the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) will give 911 professionals and first responders alike a seamless emergency communications environment that enables sharing of critical multimedia data—between the public, 911 centers, and first responders. Gone will be the days of, “This network/system doesn’t talk to that one.” Or, “That data isn’t available.” Or, “There’s no way for me to send you that information.”

The flywheel of progress continues to turn and we all owe it to everyone who calls 911 in their greatest time of need to keep it moving in the right direction. Discussions are taking place on how and why Emergency Services IP Networks (ESInets)—which will transmit emergency calls and related data—and the NPSBN need to be interconnected to share critical information needed by 911 centers and first responders alike. There are many compelling use cases that speak to the need for a strong integration—all of which come back to the workflow of our emergency responders. Keeping our responders safe, leveraging the data to make better decisions, and ultimately improving outcomes for those who need help, are all reasons that NG911 systems and the NPSBN must work together. 

Achieving NG911 Interoperability: What Does it Take? [Webinar]

Emergency management and 911 organizations across the country are in various stages of migrating from operating in a legacy environment to Next Generation 911 (NG911), a broadband-enabled communications network that will dramatically enhance first responder communications.

If your organization is focusing on this transition, it’s likely you have a vision of NG911 interoperability. What may not be clear is exactly what steps you need to take to get there.

For example, GIS will play a central role in the NG911 transition, but what exactly does that mean for your agency? How important are policy routing rules? How do you begin establishing data interoperability with your neighboring agencies? And how will FirstNet impact this migration?

Smartphone 9-1-1 applications need oversight

Looking at my smart phone, there seems to be an app for just about everything. There are apps that let you watch sporting events, movies and television shows on your device, while others provide turn-by-turn directions to your destination and tell you where the closest pharmacy is to your location. There are apps that let you receive a fake phone call when you want to extract yourself from an awkward situation, apps that enable you to locate your car when you’ve forgotten where you parked it, and apps that tell you when it’s the best time to run to the theater’s concession stand , so as not to miss the “good” part of a movie.

The rise of 9-1-1 smartphone apps

There even are apps that interconnect with 9-1-1 systems. Most are variations of the same theme:

  • the user launches an app to contact 9-1-1 with the “touch of a button”
  • information about the caller, including the location and pre-loaded medical history information, is transmitted with the call.
  • users can even go as far as indicating the type of emergency—police, fire, medical or car crash—again at the touch of a button on some of the apps.

A few apps are focused on active shooter incidents. They enable authorized school and corporate security personnel to indicate that an active shooter incident is in progress, again with the touch of a button. The app indicates the location of the alert on a map, and while 9-1-1 is being contacted, they also alerts all federal, state and local law enforcement personnel in close proximity who have downloaded a companion responder app. According to the app developer, tens of thousands of  law enforcement personnel have downloaded their app to date.

Let’s walk before we run

The idea behind these apps is to make it faster and easier for citizens to contact 9-1-1 and to speed emergency response. It’s a great idea and the public safety community is always focused on improving outcomes for people in their time of need.

What’s not so good is that the app developers have been allowed to do their thing with little to no oversight.  Compile some code, upload it to an app store, and problem solved.  Or is it?