Apple announced Monday that it will use technology from startup RapidSOS to improve the location information sent to emergency responders when iPhone users call 911.
The action is notable considering more than 80% of calls to 911 now come from wireless phones, not landline phones. To address that situation, wireless operators for more than a decade have been working to meet the FCC’s E911 requirements, which are designed to deliver mobile users’ locations to the “public safety answering points,” or PSAPs, where 911 operators work.
But the type of location data that can be sent to 911 operators through the technology developed by Apple and RapidSOS can be much more accurate than the type of location data sent by wireless operators like AT&T and Verizon, per the FCC’s E911 guidelines.
“The FCC requires carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80% of the time by 2021,” Apple noted in its press release on the news. “iOS location services are capable of exceeding this requirement today, even in challenging, dense, urban environments. This new feature allows Apple to make these benefits available to local 911 centers now rather than years from now.”
Apple’s announcement essentially marks the company’s decision to supply iOS users’ location data to RapidSOS’ “NG911 Clearinghouse.” That clearinghouse collects location data above and beyond the FCC’s E911 guidelines and then provides that data to PSAPs for free in a data format that they can use. “Public safety agencies across 35 states have already completed the integration and are receiving life-saving data from the NG911 Clearinghouse,” RapidSOS wrote in a blog post.
That’s important, considering many PSAPs are small, rural operations unable to quickly upgrade their systems to the latest new technologies.
“In keeping with Apple’s focus on privacy, user data cannot be used for any nonemergency purpose and only the responding 911 center will have access to the user’s location during an emergency call,” Apple added.
RapidSOS is a startup featuring three former FCC commissioners on its board of directors. As The Wall Street Journal noted, Google late last year tested a similar setup with RapidSOS and West Corp. that delivered more accurate location data from Android devices to 911 call centers. Specifically, the publication reported that Google’s tests found that the new technology delivered an average location-estimate radius of 121 feet, while carrier data averaged 522 feet.