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New Nationwide Location-Based Routing Improves Public Safety Response for Wireless 9-1-1 Calls

By Cara Fields, Vice President and General Manager, AT&T Southeast States

“9-1-1, what’s your location?”

It’s a phrase we’ve heard hundreds of times on TV shows and movies. In real life though, have you ever considered the possibility that this question – one that can mean the difference between life and death – may be hard for the caller to answer? In an emergency, you may not be able to speak. If you’re in a car accident, you may not know where you are. In a disaster, your surroundings may be confusing.

That’s where a new location-based routing feature we call “Locate Before Route” comes in. This month, AT&T, in collaboration with Intrado, rolled out a first-of-its-kind 9-1-1 upgrade across the country that will make it easier for emergency personnel to find and send help to wireless callers.

Roughly 80% of 9-1-1 calls today are made from cell phones. Before location-based routing, a call would ping a cell phone tower and connect to the dispatch center closest to that tower. But here’s the thing: that cell tower could be up to 10 miles away. In fact, it could be in a different county, making it difficult for dispatchers to pinpoint exactly where the caller is calling from.

Here’s how it works:

Instead of pinging the closest cell tower, the GPS in your phone connects with the closest 9-1-1 dispatch center, meaning emergency operators can locate you within about 55 yards of your position. That’s about half a football field.

This kind of accuracy means public safety can respond faster, especially in situations when a 9-1-1 wireless caller doesn’t know or can’t disclose their location.

AT&T is the first wireless carrier to launch location-based routing for all 9-1-1 call centers nationwide, whether they’re operating on older technology or NextGen 9-1-1. The best part, AT&T customers across the country automatically have access to this service – no action is necessary.

AT&T’s commitment to public safety is longstanding. Following the events of September 11th, we worked to create FirstNet, – the only nationwide communications platform dedicated to public safety and first responders. With nationwide location-based 9-1-1 call routing, we are providing our customers with the quickest, most accurate way to call emergency personnel for help when it’s most needed.

It is our hope that the other wireless carriers will join us in aiding emergency personnel to reach their customers faster in times of crisis, by adding location-based routing to their service as well. The impact of this upgrade could be the single most critical, positive improvement for the safety of our communities since the invention of cell phones.


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