In movies and television, whenever a character calls 911 a dramatic and familiar scene plays out. The caller pleads into the phone just before they drop the device from their hand, unable to finish the call, yet a team of emergency responders still manages to arrive to the scene within minutes. In reality, the sequence of events plays out much differently. The tireless dispatchers who work at 911 cannot simply track a location with any significant degree of accuracy; they rely on the caller to tell them their location, and if the caller is unable to do so, the team's best hope is to piece together a fuzzy picture of where the person in peril might approximately be. This process costs time, which in emergency situations is cherished. Now, a new form of technology is helping real-life 911 dispatchers catch up to the fictionalized portrayal of a fast, seamless process.
The system uses location data that Google itself has collected, a practice typical of the tech giant as it already uses location data to fuel a diverse range of services, from Google Maps' driving directions to social media check-ins. The proposed 911 system may be the first time this data collection has been optimized to its fullest potential of public good. In the past, emergency call centers have had to rely on location data which carriers collected, at times an ineffective practice. In contrast, the new system will pull the location directly from the phone itself, made possible by Android phones' Google-powered operating sytems.
The trials, which took place in December of 2017 and January of this year, show tremendous promise. The numbers speak for themselves: carrier-collected location data has been shown to pinpoint a location within 500 feet, while Google's data shrinks that radius to about 100 feet. Researchers estimate that reducing emergency response times by a single minute can save 10,000 lives annually, which underscores the importance of an accurate location.
Can tech companies like Google work together with law enforcement agencies to the benefit of everyone? Will such a system become standard practice? These are questions that remain to be answered, but one thing's for certain: Technology has the power not only to change lives, but to save lives as well.
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