911 call-testing tool available for PSAPs

A public safety consulting company is offering software to help agencies test the accuracy of the location data provided with wireless calls to 911.

RCC Consultants Inc., of Woodbridge, N.J., developed ComSite9-1-1e as a tool to determine whether Enhanced 911 location data provided by wireless carriers falls within the accuracy range required by the Federal Communications Commission. The consultants can conduct the testing, or agencies can buy the tool to do their own testing.

'The results of the test are only true for the point in time when the data were gathered,' said Robert Lopez, general manager of information technology at RCC.

FCC recommends that such testing be done at least twice a year.

The commission requires telephone carriers to provide Enhanced 911 data to public safety answering points, and give a call-back number and the location of the caller. With landline phones, that task is relatively simple, but wireless carriers face a challenge in routing emergency calls to the appropriate answering point and providing accurate location data for mobile phones.

For wireless phones, carriers using network-based technology that triangulates the location of a call must be accurate within 300 meters 95 percent of the time. For handset-based solutions, which usually use some kind of Global Positioning System technology, calls must be located within 150 meters 95 percent of the time.

FCC's Office of Engineering Technology developed standards for accuracy testing in 2000. RCC Consultants developed its own software, which it has been using to provide testing services since 2001.

The simplest way to check the accuracy of a system is to call 911 on a cell phone from a known location and ask the operator what location data is being reported. That is essentially how ComSite9-1-1e operates. The product also includes software that makes the results statistically valid.

'Conducting a test on a one-off basis does not give you the degree of confidence required,' Lopez said. The company's tools conducts testing in much the same way as an opinion poll: You can't question every person or test every call site, but you must test enough sites to produce a statistically valid sample with results within a needed margin of error.

The software is loaded onto a laptop with a GPS receiver and generates random sample of locations within the PSAP answering area. The tester can override a location if it is impossible to reach, such as in a lake or on the side of a mountain. When a test call begins the laptop automatically logs the location provided by the GPS receiver while the tester makes the 911 call and logs the location data provided by the operator. The software then analyzes the results and produces a report.

The company is introducing the product next month at the annual conference of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials in Kansas City, Mo. The pricing has not been determined, but it will be scalable to fit within the budget of small agencies, the company said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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