Apple's iOS 12 securely and automatically shares emergency location with 911

Joanna Estrada
June 18, 2018

iPhone users who call 911 will automatically be able to share location data with first responders when iOS 12 becomes available in the fall, Apple announced Monday.

Apple already implements a feature called Hybridized Emergency Location, or HELO, that tries to estimate an iPhone caller's location for emergency services using radios.

Now, when an iPhone calls 911, location data within 50 meters will be routed to a RapidSOS dispatch center, which will pass it on to the local 911 center. When iOS 12 becomes available, Apple will use a technology called RapidSOS to quickly and securely share HELO data with 911 operators.

Efforts like HELO, Advanced Mobile Location in Europe, and now Next Generation 911 integration in iOS 12 are meant to combat the fact that roughly four out of five calls to emergency services come from mobile devices, Apple says, despite call centers relying on landline-era infrastructure. "When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance".

"911 telecommunicators do extraordinary work managing millions of emergencies with little more than a voice connection", said RapidSOS CEO Michael Martin. This used a combination of cell data, Global Positioning System data and Wi-Fi access points to estimate the caller's whereabouts.

With RapidSOS support, Apple is apparently getting out ahead of a 2021 US mandate in which the FCC will require carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time. iOS 12 will be able to exceed that level in the USA, as iOS 11.3 does with AML.

Apple is making a change to the way iPhones call 911.

"This new functionality is an example of how companies and first responders can use technology to dramatically improve public safety", said Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman from 2013 to 2017.

"Helping 911 services quickly and accurately assess caller location has been a major issue since my time at the FCC", said Dennis Patrick, FCC Chairman from 1987 to 1989. The data provided to 911 centers includes information on location from cell towers as well as data from Global Positioning System and Wi-Fi networks. The EENA has estimated that if Apple and Google both supported AML, the European Union alone would save 7,500 lives and 95 billion euros in wasted emergency services over 10 years, though the actual numbers are obviously impossible to determine.

But behind the scenes, the new feature could reduce response times in emergency situations, Apple and RapidSOS said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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