- Under a partnership with the city of Nashville, TN, residents who use an iPhone to call 911 will be able to automatically share their location with emergency responders, reducing call response time.
- The service is made possible after Apple’s partnership with RapidSOS, a company that can send location data to 911 call centers, building on a previous Apple initiative known as HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location).
- "This upgrade will save lives by giving our 911 dispatchers, police, firefighters and paramedics the thing they need the most: time," Nashville Mayor David Briley said, according to The Tennessean. "Every second counts in a crisis, and I appreciate all the work Apple has done to address this issue."
The nation’s emergency calling infrastructure remains built for a landline world, making location detection a major delay in getting police, firefighters or ambulances to the scene of an emergency. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will require carriers to locate callers within a 50-meter radius at least 80% of the time by 2021, but Apple says its iOS location service can exceed that requirement already. HELO marked the first step in trying to bring that accuracy to 911 response by using cell towers and GPS to estimate a caller’s location, but Monday’s announcement brings that technology to cities.
Relying on private infrastructure to improve emergency response means cities can make big strides without a heavy public investment. Working with cities also means that Apple and other phone series can test their tools in real time, refining them on the way to national deployment.
Tech firms are already taking their own steps to utilize location services — Uber announced last month that it would automatically send a user’s location to 911 responders in some markets as part of an upgrade to its app, although that would only apply for emergencies in an Uber car. Apple’s announcement also indicates that it will expand to more cities beyond Nashville later this year.
Of course, the partnership also carries obvious privacy concerns, since it would mean private companies could potentially have access to user’s locations and emergency information. Apple said in a statement that only the responding 911 center would have access to a user’s data, and that the data could not be used for any non-emergency purpose. Private partnerships are not new for the emergency response sector — Georgia’s ChatComm, founded in 2009, is believed to be the first public-private 911 partnership — but the role of private companies in storing and transmitting data may give people pause without guarantees of safeguards.