One of the features Apple is rolling out with its iOS 12 update for iPhone users is better location sharing when calling 911. The company says iPhone users in the United States will be able to automatically and securely share their location data with first responders after applying the update, enabling emergency service workers to respond faster to 911 calls with more accurate information at their disposal, versus previous versions of iOS.
Apple says eight out of 10 emergency 911 calls these days originate from mobile devices, a not-too-surprising statistic considering how ubiquitous smartphones have become. However, "outdated, landline-era infrastructure often makes it difficult for 911 centers to quickly and accurately obtain a mobile caller's location," Apple says. It's the reason why Apple in 2015 launched HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location), a technology that can estimate where a mobile 911 call is coming using a variety of data sources, including cell towers, GPS, and Wi-Fi access points.
With iOS 12, Apple is also implementing support for RapidSOS's Internet Protocol-based data pipeline. This will allow iPhone devices to quickly and securely share HELO location data with 911 operators, and will integrate with many of the existing software that 911 centers currently use.
"We’re thrilled that Apple is giving 911 centers access to device-based location data via a thoroughly-tested, standards-based approach," said Rob McMullen, President of the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 Association. "This will accelerate the deployment of Next Generation 911 for everyone, saving lives and protecting property."
Ultimately what this entails is that iPhone users running iOS 12 will automatically share their exact location when calling 911, versus a larger general area on earlier versions of iOS. The new feature could save lives in situations where time is critical, such as someone suffering a heart attack or being involved in some sort of accident.
Tom Wheeler, who served as FCC Chairman under the Obama administration, had been championing more accurate 911 location data for several years. "This new functionality is an example of how companies and first responders can use technology to dramatically improve public safety," Wheeler said in response to Apple's announcement. "Lives will be saved thanks to this effort by Apple and RapidSOS."
The feature will only be available when making an emergency call and will be turned on by default. However, users will have the option of opting out in the Settings menu.
Apple announced iOS 12 earlier this month. It will likely roll out to the public this fall, perhaps in September.
Top Image Source: Flickr via Mark Goebel