911 Access

Thomas Ginter’s 911 Frequently Asked Questions: Volume 2

Thomas Ginter
Thomas Ginter
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Image of Thomas Ginter answering frequently asked 911 questions

911 can be confusing. In my role at Bandwidth, I field questions from our customers and prospects every day, and some of them occur so regularly that we’re now publishing my “greatest hits” as a blog each month. 

Why should I integrate Bandwidth’s emergency solutions into my home security (or other) application instead of simply having users call 911 from  their smartphone?

Location. Location. Location.

When a wireless mobile phone makes a 911 call, it connects the caller to public safety and displays the current cell tower location as the phone’s location to the call taker. As you might imagine, this location can be down the street or even miles from where the phone call is actually taking place. 

911 call takers are trained to ignore the initial mobile phone location and ask the caller where they are. At the same time, the call taker will initiate a process to fetch GPS location from the wireless carrier (i.e., AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon). This can take from ten to thirty seconds and results in a latitude-longitude (or X,Y coordinate) that appears as a dot on a map to the call taker. This location does not provide a dispatchable address, which is the  data point that public safety values over all other forms of location information because it’s the door that first responders need to find to assist callers. A dispatchable address includes the street address, and may also include building, floor or apartment number, if applicable. 

If you have a smartphone application that monitors a device such as a home security camera, your subscriber will provide the physical address-or dispatchable location–of that device, usually during service set up. When the subscriber initiates an emergency call from within the app, Bandwidth routes the call based on the camera’s address and displays that address information to the call taker. These types of calls typically route much more reliably than wireless 911 calls, and provide the precise, dispatchable location that public safety needs for the fastest response. 

Valuable time can be saved by asking potentially panicked callers “Can you confirm you are at 1010 Main Street, Apartment 5  here in Raleigh,” versus “Where are you?”. These are the kinds of problems that Bandwidth’s’ services can help solve. 

Can I develop my app or software to initiate  a 911 call using the device’s native dialer?

No. Both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system are designed to prevent accidental 911 calls as well as potential malware that might maliciously launch a 911 call from a smartphone. Any application is blocked from initiating a wireless 911 call from within the app. Our Emergency Calling API customers enjoy a better solution by enabling their app to place a call to a telephone number provided by Bandwidth. When we receive the call, we match the caller location information to the call and use this data to route the call to public safety while making the location information appear to the 911 call taker.

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Have more questions about 911?

Still need an answer to your question? Reach out to our team of experts; they’re always ready to get you the answers you need to your 911 questions.

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