AT&T to use GPS locations to route 911 calls

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With Americans no longer on landlines, the company felt it necessary to adjust to wireless users

In emergency situations such as a stroke, time is of the essence. To cut down on emergency response times, AT&T has upgraded its system so that wireless 911 calls are routed to the appropriate call centers more quickly.

The new nationwide enhancement – “Locate Before Route” – will use location-based routing so that AT&T can more accurately identify where a wireless 911 call is coming from. The feature will use a device's GPS and hybrid information to route the call.

Previously, wireless 911 calls were routed based on the location of cell towers. Given a tower’s typical 10-mile coverage, emergency responses were sometimes delayed. According to AT&T, those delays sometimes increased when a call was made within the border areas of a 911 call center where state, county, or city boundaries overlap.

“In today’s environment, over 93% of the US Population have cell phones and rely on these for communications. It is critical that when they dial 9-1-1 the call routing is going into the closest dispatch center. This will be a game changer for wireless 9-1-1 calls," said Kim Zagaris, a retired fire chief and the technology and policy advisor of the Western Fire Chief Association, in a comment sent to ConsumerAffairs. 

"With the new release of AT&T location-based routing, a device can be located and routed within 164 feet of the device location. Taking away the transfer time of the past systems and be quicker response for emergency personal responding saving valuable time.”

The nationwide rollout of AT&T's new feature has already started and is available in 16 states – Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The company promises that other regions will be rolled out over the next several weeks, and company officials hope to have the country completely covered by the end of June.

AT&T addresses possible privacy concerns

In an email to ConsumerAffairs, an AT&T spokesperson said mobile customers can feel confident that the new location feature will not cross any privacy lines. 

"The handset location used for Location Based Routing is only used when a caller places a 9-1-1 call," the spokesperson said, adding that a 911 caller’s location is only shared with public safety professionals at the call center and the data is delivered via dedicated links to the center.

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