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iOS 12 will pass your location to emergency responders quickly during a 911 call

Later in 2018, iPhone users in the United States who call 911 will be able to automatically and securely share their location data with first responders nearly instantaneously and in real-time as the crisis develops.

Apple announced on Monday that they will use emergency technology company RapidSOS's Internet Protocol-based data pipeline to quickly and securely share HELO location data with 911 centers. The companies are expecting improved crisis response time when lives and property are at risk.

RapidSOS's system will deliver the emergency location data of iOS customers by integrating with many 911 centers' existing software which rely on industry standard protocols.

"Communities rely on 911 centers in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal," Apple CEO Tim Cook regarding the rollout. "When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance."

Over the last few years, approximately 80 percent of 911 calls come from mobile devices. Response time and location determination are hampered by landline-era infrastructure.

To help fight this, Apple launched HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location) on the iPhone in 2015, which estimates a mobile 911 caller's location using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and WiFi Access Points. But, this is still not a precise enough location tool by itself.

In keeping with Apple's focus on privacy, user data cannot be used for any non-emergency purpose and only the responding 911 Center will be able to access the user's location during an emergency call.

The FCC requires carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time by 2021. Starting with the deployment of the RapidSOS technology in iOS 12, location services are capable of exceeding this requirement, even in dense, urban environments.

"911 [operators] do extraordinary work managing millions of emergencies with little more than a voice connection," said RapidSOS CEO, Michael Martin. "We are excited to work with Apple to provide first responders a new path for accurate, device-based caller location using transformative Next Generation 911 technology."

When the technology rolls out, the technology applies to the iPhone running iOS 12. In the case of call from a non-LTE Apple Watch, the technology will still work, and locate the iPhone. At present, Apple says that the technology does not work with the LTE Apple Watch.

Apple has said that any iPhone capable of running iOS 12 will be able to use the new RapidSOS functionality. The technology is not the same as Advanced Mobile Location (AML) that Apple has already deployed, and is in use internationally.

The service is enabled on all iOS 12 devices. However, the user can disable it, if desired.

Industry response

The response to the unveil has been positive, across not just the emergency response industry, but from prior FCC chairs as well.

"We're thrilled that Apple is giving 911 centers access to device-based location data via a thoroughly-tested, standards-based approach," said Rob McMullen, the president of the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 Association. "This will accelerate the deployment of Next Generation 911 for everyone, saving lives and protecting property."

"This new functionality is an example of how companies and first responders can use technology to dramatically improve public safety," said prior FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. "Lives will be saved thanks to this effort by Apple and RapidSOS."

"Helping 911 services quickly and accurately assess caller location has been a major issue since my time at the FCC," said '80s era FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick. "This advancement from Apple and RapidSOS will be transformative for emergency response in the United States."

"It can be hard in an emergency to know exactly where you are, and if you're not on a landline, our first responders can't always help. This upgrade will save lives by giving our 911 dispatchers, police, firefighters and paramedics the thing they need the most: time," Nashville, Tenn. Mayor David Briley said. "Every second counts in a crisis, and I appreciate all the work Apple has done to address this issue."