Apple is trying to drag the US’s antiquated system for handling 911 calls into the 21st century.
If it lives up to Apple’s promise, the next iPhone operating system coming out in September will automatically deliver quicker and more reliable information pinpointing the location of 911 calls to about 6,300 emergency response centres in the US.
Apple is trying to solve a problem caused by the technological mismatch between a system built for landlines 50 years ago and today’s increasingly sophisticated smartphones that make most emergency calls in the US.
The analogue system often struggles to decipher the precise location of calls coming from digital devices, resulting in emergency responders sometimes being sent a mile or more from people pleading for help.
“Communities rely on 911 centres in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance.”
Back in 2015, Apple launched HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location), which estimates a mobile 911 caller’s location using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and Wi-Fi Access Points.
With its announcement on Monday, Apple said it will use emergency technology company RapidSOS’s Internet Protocol-based data pipeline to quickly and securely share HELO location data with 911 centres, and said this will improve response time when lives and property are at risk. RapidSOS’s system will deliver the emergency location data of iOS users by integrating with many 911 centres’ existing software, which rely on industry-standard protocols.