When is a “Dispatchable Location” Really Dispatchable?

Picture of Matt Serra, ENP By Matt Serra, ENP

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Two weeks ago at NENA National I co-chaired a speaking session with Brooks Shannon of Geo-Comm. The title of this session was “The Next Frontier for GIS: Indoors”. While we discussed several topics, I think one of the timeliest aspects was the state of “Dispatchable Location”.

I expect any seasoned 9-1-1 dispatcher or first responder knows when a set of location information is (or is not) dispatch-quality. They can make this judgement based on experience and local knowledge. However I am not aware of any attempt to formally define “Dispatchable Location” prior to the FCC’s 4th Report and Order of January 29, 2015. In summary, they define Dispatchable Location as:

“… the verified or corroborated street address … plus additional information such as floor, suite, apartment or similar … to adequately identify the location of the calling party.”

It makes sense that the FCC would settle on this definition – especially when so many 9-1-1 location accuracy comments sound like “Most of my center’s 9-1-1 calls are initiated by mobile phones and the location data is often not good enough to find the caller. Things were so much easier when all calls came from landlines; at least they came with an address.”

Is civic address alone good enough? To explore this, let take the location of the NENA National Conference as an example. If a 9-1-1 call were placed from a landline on the show floor, it should be accompanied by ALI (automatic location information) in the form of an address. It would probably be similar to the following:

100 S. Capitol Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46225

Seems dispatchable, right? Most certainly if you are a member of Indianapolis Police, Fire or EMS – but why? Because local responders can consume this location information, compare it to a reference map, and navigate to the incident. For a common address in the city center, local knowledge (or “the map in the responders head”) may get them there. However, when I made my way to the show I needed the map on my phone (my reference) to “dispatch myself” to the show floor. This problem is even more apparent if your location information is a described via latitude/longitude:

Example of Current Civic and Geodetic 9-1-1 Location Information
Example of Current Civic and Geodetic 9-1-1 Location Information

 

Perhaps a “verified or corroborated street address” only gets you half-way to the Dispatchable Address goal. The second half of the solution requires an equally verified and corroborated map to make sense of a civic or geodetic location.

Today, nearly everyone has a highly detailed map in their pocket, so what is the big deal? Problem solved!

I’d agree if the FCC’s order simply required the industry bring wireless location precision to 1980’s E9-1-1 ALI address standards. However, that is not the case. Both the Dispatchable Location definition (by including reference to floor, suite, apartment, or similar) and more stringent location accuracy requirements (calling for < 50 meter precision and an accompanying altitude component) reaches beyond simply getting the responder “to the front door”, especially in larger facilities.

Using this definition, let’s move our example into the near future. Imagine someone dialing 9-1-1 during our presentation (dying of boredom, perhaps?), and their location is provided by the currently-under-development National Emergency Address Database (NEAD). The NEAD is expected to provide a more detailed civic address for emergency calls, which may look like something like:

Example of 9-1-1 Dispatchable Location per the FCC’s Definition
Example of 9-1-1 Dispatchable Location per the FCC’s Definition

 

While this example is fairly simple, you can imagine not being able find a “dispatchable address” within a complex facility without the benefit of a corresponding indoor map. Consequently, even if calls are accompanied by a civic address meeting the FCC’s definition of Dispatchable Location, reliably getting responders to an indoor emergency caller will require maps keep pace with improvement in location information.

Over the past year, much emphasis has been put on Dispatchable Location and NEAD. This is a commendable effort, and prioritizing improvements in location information over improvements in maps is the right thing to do. However the goal of delivering a dispatchable Location with every call won’t be complete until we have corresponding mapping improvements (a fact that is not lost on the FCC).

Building out these improved maps will involve overcoming a unique set of challenges. That is something I will cover in my next blog post. I fear if I don’t stop typing now, I risk boring you to death!

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Matt Serra, ENP

Written by Matt Serra, ENP

Matt Serra is the Vice President of Product Strategy at Rave Mobile Safety. Matt has over 25 years of experience in the technology industry and is a certified Emergency Number Professional.

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