Cell phones to provide caller location to regional 9-1-1 centre

Vancouver–Cell phone callers to 9-1-1 who are unable to communicate their location will soon have a better chance of being found by emergency personnel, thanks to new public safety technology being implemented at the regional emergency communications centre, E-Comm.

President Ken Shymanski announced today that E-Comm, which is celebrating its tenth year of operation this month, will implement Canada’s first multi-agency, multijurisdictional trial of location information from cell phones, known as “Wireless Phase II.”

“We are proud of the advancements in public safety technology that E-Comm has introduced over the past ten years,” said Shymanski. “The implementation of Wireless Phase II will be another excellent tool for emergency responders. Knowing where to send help is the key to providing help.”

At present, 9-1-1 centres in Canada receive only the address of the cell tower the call is transmitting from. That tower could be many kilometres away from the actual emergency, perhaps in a different municipality altogether. Following the implementation of Wireless Phase II, 9-1-1 centres will receive latitude and longitude coordinates that will plot a general location for the caller on a computerized map, providing a significantly reduced search area.

“We’re moving from having no useful information to receiving a recommended search area of up to 300 metres, perhaps as narrow as 50 to150 metres in some cases,” added Shymanski. “This will be of enormous benefit to the 9-1-1 personnel and first responders trying to help.”

E-Comm is working with its 9-1-1 telephony partner, TELUS, to have Wireless Phase II developed, tested, and fully implemented by January 18, 2010, ahead of the CRTC-mandated deadline of February 1. Following that, work will begin on developing the technology needed to track a caller’s location from a moving vehicle and for out-of-province cell phones.

While this is a major advancement for 9-1-1, it is important for the public to understand that, despite what they see in the movies, this technology will not pinpoint a caller’s exact location. Callers themselves are still the best source of information and should always be prepared to provide their exact location. An address is always best, or when on the road, street names or highway markers.

E-Comm, which answers more than one million 9-1-1 calls each year for Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast and Whistler/Howe Sound, also provides dispatch for 24 police and fire departments and operates the region’s interoperable radio system.

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Media Contact

Jody Robertson
604-215-4956

Backgrounders from E-Comm and from TELUS below

Wireless Phase II Backgrounder

About E-Comm

E-Comm is the regional 9-1-1 answer point for southwest British Columbia, managing more than one million calls each year.

E-Comm provides dispatch service for 24 police and fire departments throughout Metro Vancouver, Sunshine Coast and Whistler/Howe Sound.

E-Comm operates Canada’s only fully interoperable radio system, one of only a handful in North America that enables all types of emergency responders (police, fire, ambulance) to communicate on one system.

About Wireless Phase II

Wireless Phase II allows 9-1-1 call-takers to receive both the caller’s wireless phone number and their general location. Currently, 9-1-1 call-takers only receive the caller’s phone number and the address of the cell radio tower that the 9-1-1 call is transmitted through. That cell site could be kilometres away from the actual emergency, perhaps even in a different municipality.

The introduction of Wireless Phase II has the potential to reduce the search area for a 9-1-1 caller, from the current range of up to four thousand metres, to 300 metres. Based on experience with similar technology in the US over the past few years, call-takers have found they can typically get within a radius of 50 to 150 metres from the cell phone caller.

Wireless Phase II will NOT pinpoint a caller’s location but it can provide a much more manageable search area.

Wireless Phase II will be implemented in Canada in stages:

  • Stage one: general location information provided to 9-1-1 public safety answer points (PSAPs). PSAPs will receive the x,y coordinates (latitude and longitude) of the initial 9-1-1 call for all wireless devices registered in British Columbia. Complete by February 1, 2010.
  • Stage two: development of technology to support mid-call location updates (ability to receive updates to location; e.g., caller is in a moving vehicle). To be complete after February 2010 (date to be determined by CRTC).
  • Stage three: development of technology that will support location information from roamers (out-of-province visitors) and decommissioned wireless devices (deactivated—no contract). To be complete after February 2010 (date to be determined by CRTC).

Wireless Phase II Background/CRTC decision

  • The Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) mandated Wireless Phase II be implemented in Canada by February 1, 2010.
  • Metro Vancouver will be the first multi-agency, multijurisdictional test site for Wireless Phase II in Canada, through E-Comm.
  • Previous test sites include a four-year trial along Highway 401 outside of Toronto; implementation is not yet complete. Peel, Ontario, will begin a trial soon, limited to the region of Peel only.

Wireless Phase II Implementation in Metro Vancouver

  • E-Comm 9-1-1 is working with TELUS and its computer-aided dispatch system providers to have Wireless Phase II developed, tested, and fully implemented for 9-1-1 and the 24 agencies for which E-Comm provides dispatch by January 18, 2010.
  • E-Comm’s implementation deadline is by far the most aggressive in Canada due to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which begin just two weeks after the CRTC implementation deadline (to avoid any complications with new technology before the Games).
  • In 2008, more than half the 9-1-1 calls placed to E-Comm originated from wireless devices (513,179). This was the first year that 9-1-1 calls placed from wireless devices exceeded those placed from landlines.

Important Information About Wireless Phase II

  • Wireless Phase II is a significant advancement for 9-1-1 in Canada, but it is important for the general public to know that it will NOT pinpoint a caller’s exact location.
  • Paying attention to one’s location is critical. E-Comm will continue to reinforce that message through its public education programs. Callers are still the best source of information for 9-1-1 call-takers.
  • In 2008, E-Comm commissioned an Ipsos Reid survey in which almost half the respondents indicated a mistaken belief that wireless devices provide location information to 9-1-1 centres.
  • Wireless Phase II is still rolling out in the United States but the rollout process began in 2001.
  • In Canada, there are approximately 20 million wireless subscribers.

Tips for Consumers

  • Remember that cell phone signals can be blocked by metal or concrete buildings or geographic features such as mountains and valleys – be prepared to seek other means to reach 9-1-1 if a cell phone signal is not available
  • Wireless Phase II does provide general location information, but you are still the best source of information. You should still know your exact location at all times and be able communicate that information to the call-taker as soon as you are asked for it. That way, if the signal is lost or you can no longer communicate, emergency responders know where you are.
  • You should know what city you are in, building or home addresses, cross streets, and any other information, like landmarks, that will help emergency personnel find you.
  • If you have a choice between using a landline phone or a cell phone to call 9-1-1, the landline is always your best choice. The connection is more secure and the location data is more specific and available to 9-1-1 call-takers immediately.
  • If you’ve given up your landline in favour of a cell phone, always keep your cell phone in the same place in the home so you, your family and guests can find it at a moment’s notice.
  • Post your address and number with your phone – during an emergency it is easy to forget the most basic of information.
  • Always ensure your cellular phone is fully charged and teach your children how to activate the phone and how to send a call.
  • When on the road, pay attention to your surroundings. Exact addresses are always best, but cross streets, highway exits, landmarks will also help emergency responders to locate you.
  • Do not pre-program 9-1-1 into any telephone because this leads to accidental calls. If you do call 9-1-1 by mistake, please stay on the line and tell the call-taker.
  • Consumers should be aware that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones do not provide location information and will not provide location information under Wireless Phase II. VoIP calls will be continue to be routed to a third-party call centre before the carrier transfers to the appropriate 9-1-1 centre.

Backgrounder e911 (Enhanced 9-1-1)

Vancouver, British Columbia –

  • Phase 2 e911 (“Wireless Phase II”) will come into effect in Canada by February 1, 2010. TELUS will use both GPS (Global Positioning System) and triangulation technologies, as each technology works better in different conditions. TELUS is currently procuring the cutting-edge technology needed and beginning testing with PSAPs (Public Safety Answer Points) such as E-Comm.
  • The accuracy of location information wireless carriers can provide using current technology will depend on several factors:
    • Terrain
    • Whether the caller is inside a building, and what kind of building
    • The technology in the handset a call comes from
    • The wireless network capabilities
    • How many cell towers are able to pick up the call
  • The best available information about the location of a wireless call will be automatically tracked and appear on a 9-1-1 operator’s screen

Assisted GPS

  • Assisted GPS is the preferred method of tracking a call, as it is more accurate than triangulation. However, assisted GPS will only work when calls come from an assisted GPS-capable phone and when the phone has a clear view to a satellite. It will not work inside most buildings (in that circumstance, the technology will use triangulation to determine general location). Users should check with their provider to see if they are using a GPS-capable device.
  • Assisted GPS is a new technology that acquires a location from satellites faster and more accurately than standard GPS. It will only work with modern wireless phones and smartphones equipped with Assisted GPS technology. In ideal conditions – outside, away from large buildings, assisted GPS can often track a signal within 50 metres.

Triangulation

  • If a caller does not have a GPS-capable phone, or is calling from inside a building, triangulation will be used to calculate a general location, although the location radius will be much larger than if Assisted GPS is used.
  • Triangulation calculates the signal strength of a call using at least three cell towers, providing a location radius of between several hundred metres and a few kilometres,
  • Triangulation will work from inside most buildings.

Important note:

  • Neither GPS nor triangulation will be able to give the floor number, apartment number or specific location of a call within a building.

About TELUS

TELUS (TSX: T, T.A; NYSE: TU) is a leading national telecommunications company in Canada, with .7 billion of annual revenue and 11.6 million customer connections including 6.2 million wireless subscribers, 4.2 million wireline network access lines and 1.2 million Internet subscribers. Led since 2000 by President and CEO, Darren Entwistle, TELUS provides a wide range of communications products and services including data, Internet protocol (IP), voice, entertainment and video. In support of our philosophy to give where we live, TELUS, our team members and retirees have contributed 7 million to charitable and not-for-profit organizations and volunteered more than 2.6 million hours of service to local communities since 2000. Nine TELUS Community Boards across Canada lead our local philanthropic initiatives. For more information about TELUS, please visit telus.com.

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For media inquiries, please contact: 

Shawn Hall
TELUS Media Relations
(604) 619-7913
shawn.hall@telus.com