Princeton University an Early Adopter of RapidSOS NG911 System

The 911 location service will be operational later this year with the rollout of the next generation of Apple’s operating system, iOS 12.

PRINCETON, N.J. — Princeton University’s Department of Public Safety will be among the first emergency dispatch centers in the United States to utilize technology by startup RapidSOS to receive precise location data for emergency 911 mobile calls placed within its jurisdiction.

For nearly a year, the department has been involved in beta testing and development for RapidSOS NG911, the IP-based system that gives emergency responders rich data about 911 callers, according to the university’s Office of Communications.

Apple announced in June it is partnering with RapidSOS, a New York City-based emergency communications firm, to provide accurate location information to emergency dispatchers receiving 911 calls from iPhones.

“Since August of 2017, the emergency call management system at Public Safety has been integrated with the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse for testing this solution,” says Paul Ominsky, executive director of Princeton’s Department of Public Safety. “The results were incredible, and the announcement by Apple means that Princeton University’s Department of Public Safety will be among the first call centers in the nation to be able to take advantage of this fast, accurate caller location information when calling 911 from an Apple device.”

In fact, the university’s communication center is the first in New Jersey to test and deploy the technology and is among a handful of early adopters nationwide. The communication center oversees the campus’s state-of the-art electronic security infrastructure and is staffed with trained and certified communications dispatchers who answer calls for service; monitor intrusion detection, duress and  fire alarms; provide temporary Princeton ID cards; as well as  provide other emergency services.

The 911 location service will be operational later this year with the rollout of the next generation of Apple’s operating system, iOS 12. A similar announcement from Google regarding Android phones is hoped for in the near future, said Keller Taylor, infrastructure operations manager for the Department of Public Safety.

“In the 911 community, this is absolutely huge,” Taylor said. “When you place a 911 call, the first thing you hear is, ‘9-1-1, where is your emergency?’ Because if you know where the person is, even if you get disconnected, at least you can send somebody to check and try to identify what the concern is. Without the location, and especially without the accurate location, in many cases you don’t know where to go. You don’t know what to do.”

An estimated 80% of roughly 240 million emergency calls in the U.S. this year will come from mobile phones, most of which are capable of precisely tracking where their users are. However, emergency call center don’t get that detailed location information from mobile 911 calls. Instead, they get the location of the cellular tower transmitting the call, and must rely on other methods to figure out where the caller is.

Princeton has worked with Motorola, a leading provider of emergency communications software and equipment, for the past eight years to upgrade its Communication Center technology, Taylor said. At present, whenever a 911 call comes in from a mobile phone, a circle appears on a map of the campus estimating the location of the caller using cellphone tower triangulation.

The dispatcher also is given the likelihood of the caller being within that area. “It will say, for example, we’re 90 percent certain that the caller is somewhere in this circle,” Taylor said. “In some cases, it could be half a mile in terms of the diameter, which is basically useless.”

Once the RapidSOS data is live in the system, the location appearing on the screen will be pinpoint accurate, using data directly from the caller’s phone. Dispatchers will receive x and y and soon z coordinates (latitude, longitude and height — the latter of which is essential in determining on which floor a caller is situated in a multi-story building).

What the dispatcher sees on the screen is similar to the Uber car ride app, which shows in real time the precise location of Uber drivers and their customers, Taylor said.

“We see that caller, and we see as they’re moving around, which is something you cannot get today from the [phone] carriers themselves with this degree of accuracy,” he said.

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