Smartphones and Smartwatches Improves Call Tracking Capabilities for 911 Operators

Smartphones and smartwatches have now been incorporated into 911 calls in some cities. This technology was recently tested by the Defenders, an investigative team at KSAT Channel 12 in San Antonio, Texas.

Tests were conducted to determine if the smart devices could help police departments determine the location of a caller if they themselves can’t provide that information to the 911 operator. An officer from S.A.F.F.E (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) worked with the KSAT team to test the two newest 911 technologies; an S.O.S. feature on smartwatches and 911 texting.

During the S.O.S test, a producer from KSAT picked a location at random and generated the 911 transaction through a smartwatch. The S.O.S. feature on smartwatches is activated by the user pressing the screen for several seconds which initiates the 911 call. The 911 operator was able to determine a general location on a map from the smartphone signal. The police officer involved in the test located the producer within a few minutes of placement of the call.

Robert Uribe, the communications administrator or the San Antonio PD explained that 911 operators are trained to help their callers identify landmarks which can lead to their whereabouts. “When that fails, we also use GPS coordinates if it’s being delivered through the cellphone services the caller is using,” said Uribe.

For the second test, the KSAT producer went to another random location and used the 911 texting feature on a cellphone. The texting feature has been in existence with the SAPD since July of 2015 and allows callers to type “911” in the “to” field along with an emergency message in the text field. These text messages include GPS coordinates which are provided to the 911 operator when the call is received. Once again, the police officer involved in the training was able to locate the caller within a few minutes.

While these technological advances can provide faster location of 911 callers, they do have some flaws. 911 operators have seen an increase in hang-ups because of dialing mistakes. Uribe encouraged citizens who mistakenly call 911 to stay on the line and explain the mistake so it is not taken as a true emergency.


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