Wireless 911 FAQ
How common are wireless 9-1-1 calls?
As the Capital Area Emergency Communication District (CAECD) the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) assists with managing 31 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) throughout its 10-county region. Regionally, 80 percent of all 9-1-1 calls are from wireless callers. In 2014, people placed about 1.5 million 9-1-1 calls in the region, of which 1.2 million came from wireless phones.
Can my location be determined when using a wireless phone to contact 9-1-1?
All of the PSAPs overseen by the CAECD have been capable of receiving location information for wireless 9-1-1 calls since 2005. However, unlike traditional landline 9-1-1 services, that provide PSAPs the exact location of a caller, a wireless 9-1-1 call only provides an approximate location of the caller. In addition, environmental and technical factors may affect the accuracy of the location information or prevent the PSAP from receiving location information entirely.
What type of information is provided to the PSAP when I call 9-1-1 from a wireless phone?
There are two levels of location information provided to the PSAP for wireless location identification on 9-1-1 calls.
Phase I Wireless provides a general area of the callers location by displaying the cellular tower from which a 9-1-1 call is originating, the general orientation (i.e. North, South, East, or West), and a callers’ telephone number. Since a cellular tower can cover a large geographical area, a PSAP may only determine a general area from where the calls originates.
Phase II Wireless provides a more precise geographical location of 9-1-1 callers based on latitude and longitude. The FFC sets requirements which accuracy levels are based on today. The requirements are several years old and can affect the accuracy of the location information provided to an answering PSAP.
How is my location determined when calling 9-1-1 from a wireless phone?
Wireless providers ultimately decide how their callers’ location is determined. Today, there are two methods used to determine the location of a wireless 9-1-1 call. Check with your service provider to determine which method it uses.
Network-Based: In network-based solutions, carriers use special equipment to locate a caller by using the signals from several towers to triangulate the location of the phone. Calls from areas with a limited number of towers, such as rural areas, can lead to less accurate results and a lack of Phase II location information available to an answering PSAP.
Handset Based: In handset-based solutions, wireless carriers use a GPS chip in the handset to provide location information. The phone must be able to communicate with the GPS satellites to determine its location. Calls from indoor locations or in any environment where the phone cannot determine its location, affect the wireless provider’s ability to provide location information to an answering PSAP.
Accuracy requirements for network-based solutions must be within 300 meters on 95 percent of all 9-1-1 calls and 150 meters on 66 percent of all 9-1-1 calls. Handset-based solutions must be within 50 meters on 95 percent of all 9-1-1 calls and 100 meters on 66 percent of all 9-1-1 calls. These requirements apply only to calls placed outdoors according to FCC requirements updated in 2010.
According to current FCC guidelines, PSAPs are unable to determine a caller’s elevation, so if a caller is in a multi-story building that information is unavailable to a PSAP.
What information does the PSAP need when callers dial 9-1-1 from a wireless phone?
In additional to providing the nature of the emergency, callers always should be prepared to provide the address from which you are calling. If the exact location is unknown, callers should be prepared to provide other information such as cross streets or landmarks to assist PSAPs in determining their location. PSAPs also will ask to verify the telephone number from which a person is calling. Remember, although the PSAP may be able to determine your approximate location, the accuracy of that information can vary.
If PSAPs are unable to retrieve a caller’s location, the information they provide can be critical to getting help in a timely fashion.
What happens if a caller is disconnected while on a 9-1-1 call?
If a caller is disconnected from a wireless 9-1-1 call, they should immediately call 9-1-1 again and let the PSAP know they were disconnected. Location information only is available to the PSAP when the phone is connected to 9-1-1. PSAPs will attempt to reconnect with a disconnected caller, but they do not receive location information when they call a wireless phone.
Is there anything being done to improve the availability and accuracy of wireless 9-1-1 calls?
In February of 2015, the FCC issued additional rules for wireless carriers to improve the availability of location information and location accuracy using technology that is more modern. The FFC based the rules, which apply to all wireless calls, on calls measured from indoor locations, inherently improving the accuracy from call placed outdoors as well.
The following is an overview of the new standards and timelines for achieving them:
Nationwide wireless providers shall provide location information within 50 meters, for the following percentages of wireless 9-1-1 calls within the following timeframes, measured from the effective date of the adoption of this rule:
- Within 2 years: 40 percent of all wireless 9-1-1 calls.
- Within 3 years: 50 percent of all wireless 9-1-1 calls.
- Within 5 years: 70 percent of all wireless 9-1-1 calls.
- Within 6 years: 80 percent of all wireless 9-1-1 calls.
Vertical location: Wireless providers shall provide vertical location information with wireless 9-1-1 calls as described in this section, within the following timeframes, measured from the effective date of the adoption of this rule:
Within 6 years each of the top 25 Commercial Wireless Markets (CMA), nationwide wireless providers shall deploy either a dispatchable location, or a z-axis technology in compliance with any z-axis accuracy metric that has been approved by the FCC.
Within 8 years each of the top 50 CMAs, nationwide wireless providers shall deploy either a dispatchable location or a z-axis technology in compliance with any z-axis accuracy metric that has been approved by the FCC – the 10-county CAPCOG region is in this category.
Non-nationwide wireless providers that serve any of the top 25 or 50 CMAs will have an additional year to meet each of these benchmarks.