AT&T introduces state-of-the-art 9-1-1 call tracking technology

When someone calls 9-1-1, seconds matter. Therefore, the first question the dispatcher asks 9-1-1 is “What is the address of the ambulance?”

A decade ago, if someone called and didn’t know their location, the emergency call centers sent police with sirens on and told the caller, “Tell us when you can hear the siren.”

This is because the call center can base the caller’s location only on cell towers that can cover an area of ​​up to 10 miles. Not only did the police and the rescue service have trouble finding people, but the calls were directed to the wrong call center.

Now, with the advent of GPS data for mobile phones, operators are merging with call centers.

Dallas-based AT&T says that by the end of this month, all emergency calls made through the wireless carrier will be redirected to emergency centers based on GPS phone data, not cell tower data. With GPS data, the caller can be located within 50 meters of his or her actual location – approximately the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“It’s a big change in the game,” said Terry Goswick, executive director of the North Texas Emergency Communications Center, which serves Addison, Carrollton, Coppell and Farmers Branch.

AT&T customers do not have to do anything to receive the service that AT&T works with Omaha, Neb, a cloud-based solution company, Intrado.

Previously, if you called from Addison, your call may have been misdirected to a nearby Carolton or Dallas center based on cell towers, which means your call will need to be transferred. Call forwarding can take anywhere from 25 seconds to 30 seconds, a time period that is critical when it comes to fires and medical emergencies.

Call forwarding is not uncommon.

Intrado said about 10% of wireless calls and up to 50% of calls to public safety areas where state, county or city borders overlap should be diverted to another call center.

The North Central Texas Emergency Communications Area, which serves 13 counties in Dallas-Fort Worth, has more than 40 public safety hotspots that can answer your call.

The implementation of AT&T will be life-saving for someone who has crashed but does not know where he is or someone has been caught in a fire at a hotel with an unknown address, Goswick said. And then there are medical emergencies where someone calls but can’t talk, such as when they have heart disease or a seizure.

“Now that they’re calling 9-1-1, we can find them,” Goswick said.

Finding people was easier when all the calls came from a landline. But now 80% of 9-1-1 calls are made on cordless phones, according to the National Emergency Number Association. And there are a lot of emergency calls every year – 240 million in the United States every year, 20 million coming from Texas.

John Snape, vice president of technology at Intrado, said AT&T’s new technology means emergency calls get to the right call center faster and more often.

“Seconds really are the difference sometimes between life and death, if you think of a person who may have had a heart attack, shooting or fire,” Snape said.

The company that shares location data often raises data protection concerns. AT&T says that processing is only triggered when the caller calls 9-1-1 and location data is shared directly with the public safety centers.

Chris Sambar, executive vice president of AT&T Network, said the process automatically happens in the background. AT&T sends the phone information to Intrado, and Intrado receives the information from the device and sends it to the call center. Neither AT&T nor Intrado see the caller’s location.

While other operators have introduced similar technology, AT&T’s national technology can be used without having call centers upgrade their systems, Sambar said.

For example, Verizon says on its website that it offers improved 9-1-1 services, including someone’s approximate latitude and longitude, to centers that have upgraded their equipment. In 2020, T-Mobile launched a location-based routing in its network in Texas and Washington.

“AT&T is usually the leader when it comes to 9-1-1,” said Gosswick.

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