If you’ve ever been in or near an emergency and used your cell phone to call 911, you may have noticed that your location automatically turns on to help lead the responders to where you are. If you are the responder, you may have felt the pain of not getting very accurate location information when you’re attempting to reach the caller. Ever at the leading edge of technology, Google wants to do something about this. 

The Test

During the winter of 2017-18 Google was quietly developing and testing a way to improve accurate location information. They tested it in Texas, Tennessee, and Florida, in an area that served 2.4 million citizens. They allowed 911 dispatchers to use Google information to pinpoint callers.
The improvement in accuracy was about one-fifth of the distance. Or as some like to put it, that’s five times closer! Traditional locating accuracy is a radius of a little over 500 feet or one-tenth of a mile. To help you visualize the difference. Imagine you are parking in a large store’s parking lot. It is a pretty busy day and you spot an opening 13 parking places away. You might feel pretty good about scoring a close place. That’s only a short walk and well within view of the doors. The old distance is over fifty parking places away, likely the far end of the parking lot. If you dialed 911 in that parking lot, I bet you’d prefer responders not have to search all around those random cars, over that extra distance. The improvement could easily save a minute or more for EMS to arrive, saving more lives!

How Google Data Provides Accurate Location Information

The traditional way of locating callers relies on cell carriers to report the location based on the distances from nearby cell towers. This was the only way to locate cell phones for a long time since the system was created about fifty years ago. Smartphones have rich location information that greatly improves the position reporting. The phone’s GPS data and the location of known wi-fi hotspots all combine in the system to help smartphones to know where they are with much greater accuracy.
Google ran the test, so the test was only given an advantage when callers were on an Android device. Public safety organizations have been asking Google, Apple, and other mobile device providers to give this rich location data, to help locate 911 callers, for several years.

Improving Responder Safety

As an emergency responder, you stand to gain additional benefits from this improved reporting. Dispatchers will be able to verify the accuracy of a call. More information is always better. More accurate understanding of the whole situation can improve prioritization of different emergencies. They can better identify and locate prank or malicious callers, too.
Even sending an EMS vehicle to the correct ramp of a highway interchange, the first time, can be a life-or-death difference. A few hundred foot difference can help navigate a problem made worse by a bad traffic situation.

It’s Still Early

The test was a step in the right direction, but it was not without some bugs, as the Wall Street Journal reported
Does this make you wonder why Google wants to help locate 911 callers like this? There may be some humanitarian desire to improve the effectiveness of first responders. The more their systems are relied upon, the stronger their market share and customer favorability becomes. The data can also benefit them as they add to their vast collection of information.
Google location data has plenty of other potential applications. Futurists talk a lot about the development of autonomous cars. This certainly can have some bearing on that emerging technology. Businesses will get better information as they track the movement of delivery vehicles. Many will benefit and that has a financial value to all the stakeholders.

If it saves lives and improves the effectiveness of our emergency responders, it is a pretty good thing. Hopefully, we’ll soon hear about other companies, like Apple, getting involved the way Google has.

IMAGE: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain