FCC Proposes Order on 911 Location Accuracy Long Sought by Public Safety

November 6, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a Draft Order and Draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) consistent with requirements it suggested in 2015 and which NASEMSO and other public safety associations have supported prior to that. The Order would establish requirements for being able to locate a caller in a multistory building within approximately nine vertical (known as the “z-axis”) feet of their location (a building story is generally ten feet). There is currently no requirement in this regard. The NPRM would seek to refine this requirement further and establish a tighter horizontal (“x axis and y axis”) location accuracy than now exists.

NASEMSO President Kyle Thornton (NM) stated “We have supported the life-saving foundation of the Draft Fifth Report and Order and the Draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. These documents establish the three meter vertical (z axis) requirements for 911 wireless calling location accuracy and seek to further tighten and refine the requirements for location accuracy in all horizontal and vertical planes. Simply stated, if a 911 caller in medical crisis is on a different floor or in a different building than it appears from the caller’s information as provided today, there will be a delay in EMS reaching them. The FCC’s current drafts are a great step in fixing that.”

The Draft Order and FNPRM may be found here.

Background: In an emergency, the ability to locate wireless 911 callers quickly and accurately is of critical importance to first responders and those they are seeking to help. This item builds on the Commission’s efforts to improve its wireless E911 location accuracy rules. It adopts rules and sets forth additional proposals to reduce emergency response times and ultimately save lives by enabling 911 call centers and first responders to more accurately identify the floor level for wireless 911 calls made from multi-story buildings.

In 2015, the Commission adopted comprehensive rules to improve location accuracy for 911 wireless calls made from indoor locations. These rules established benchmarks and deadlines for wireless carriers to provide either (1) dispatchable location (generally, street address plus floor, apartment, or suite), or (2) coordinate-based location information to assist first responders in locating 911 callers. The Commission established accuracy metrics for horizontal location (x/y axis) information, but it deferred a decision on adopting a vertical location (z-axis) metric pending further testing. In March 2019, based on test results and public comment, the Commission proposed a z-axis location accuracy metric of plus or minus 3 meters for 80 percent of indoor wireless E911 calls.

What the Fifth Report and Order Would Do:
• Adopt a z-axis accuracy metric of plus or minus 3 meters for 80 percent of wireless E911 calls from z-axis capable handsets.
• Require wireless carriers to validate through testing that their z-axis technology meets this metric.
• Require carriers to deploy z-axis technology that meets this metric in the top 25 markets by April 3, 2021 and in the top 50 markets by April 3, 2023.
• Extend privacy protections to z-axis data conveyed with 911 calls.

What the Fifth Further Notice Would Do:
• Seek comment on further tightening the z-axis metric over time and ultimately requiring wireless carriers to report the caller’s specific floor level.
• Seek comment on alternative deployment milestones for z-axis and dispatchable location technologies.