Google teams up with 911 to locate emergency callers more easily

In an emergency, every second counts. So the last thing a 911 dispatcher wants to waste time over is establishing the precise location of the caller, because in those vital, wasted seconds, lives can be lost.

In a bid to address the issue, Google has been testing its technology in conjunction with a number of 911 centers to develop a system that helps to automatically identify the precise location of someone calling from a cellphone, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Throughout December and January, Google hooked up with 911 centers in Texas, Tennessee, and Florida, allowing the dispatchers to use the tech giant’s data to pinpoint the location of individuals calling on mobile phones.

As the Journal points out, such data is usually provided by the wireless carriers, but it can be inaccurate, leading to slower response times. According to federal regulators, getting first responders to an emergency scene just 60 seconds earlier could save an estimated 10,000 lives a year.

According to data collected during the two-month trial, in 80 percent of cases the location information provided in the first 30 seconds by Google was more accurate than that provided by the carrier in the same time frame.

Google’s data pinpointed a caller’s location within an average radius of 36.8 meters (121 feet). That compares to an average of 159 meters (522 feet) for the carriers. Significantly, Google’s data also came through to the dispatcher more quickly than the carrier data.

Automatic and accurate detection of a 911 caller’s location becomes all the more important if their English-language skills are lacking. Also, if the emergency involves a particularly traumatic event, the caller may not be in a fit state to clearly explain everything to the dispatcher, or they could even communicate erroneous information in the heat of the moment.

The system, which Google has already launched in a number of other countries, uses Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell tower data to determine the caller’s location. Current systems use cell tower location and assisted GPS only, leading to less focused location information.

With Google’s technology appearing to perform well in the recent tests, further discussions are planned with a view to incorporating it into the system of more 911 centers.

Google improved the situation to some extent in 2017 by adding a location card to the display of its Phone app when a user makes an emergency call. The information includes a map, GPS coordinates, and the location address, though these need to be read off by the caller when the dispatcher asks.