FCC Reverses Course, Puts Public Safety at Risk

January 30 • 2015

New federal rules to help locate wireless callers to 911 fail to incorporate important provisions which would have vastly improved the ability of fire fighters to locate indoor calls. The order, adopted this morning by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) significantly weakens an earlier proposal to improve wireless 911 location accuracy.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), representing the nation’s frontline domestic defenders who respond to 911 calls every day, had championed the FCC’s original proposal to pinpoint the vertical location of wireless callers. While current rules require carriers to locate wireless callers outdoors, no such rule applies to indoor calls. This is especially problematic in multi-story buildings, increasing response times and putting lives at risk.

“Make no mistake, the order adopted by the FCC today will put lives – those of citizens in an emergency as well as responding personnel – at risk,” said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “The FCC’s original proposal had the full and enthusiastic support of the public safety community but the Commission apparently caved in to incredible pressure from the nation’s cell carriers for a weak, unsafe rule. The FCC should immediately reconsider today’s vote; the difference could literally mean life or death.”

The FCC’s original proposal required carriers to provide a caller’s vertical location information within three meters, a measurement which would have permitted fire fighters to determine the floor of a caller. The adopted order contains no such requirement, delaying consideration of specific indoor location measurements for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the adopted order “blends” indoor and outdoor accuracy test measurements. Because outdoor measurements have very high yield and accuracy, such blending will mask indoor accuracy results, providing an inaccurate evaluation of indoor accuracy.