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Pitkin County Press Releases

Posted on: September 25, 2018

Cell Phone Location Software Now Helps Emergency Responders Find You

C-141135 Pitkin County Dispatch Center Coin Colorado AR Front

The Pitkin County 9-1-1 Dispatch Center is now using technology that will revolutionize the way emergency dispatchers can pinpoint an incoming caller’s location. Apple and Google, along with industry partner RapidSOS, have recently allowed 9-1-1 centers to access your cell phone’s location information only when you dial 9-1-1. 


“This is big news for anyone who has to call 9-1-1,” said Pitkin County Emergency Dispatch Director, Brett Loeb. “Up to now we have had to rely on the caller’s description of their location and they don’t always know where they are. Before last week, there was a high probability that a 9-1-1 call-taker could not find your location. Now there is a high probability we will see your location within a few feet, even inside buildings or in mountainous terrain.” 


The Emergency Location Software (ELS) combines GPS, Wi-Fi, mobile networks and sensors to provide responders with accurate location information about callers. This is the same technology used by private companies, like Uber and Domino’s, to pinpoint a cell phone user’s location that will now be activated, but only when 9-1-1 is dialed. This technology has been in place within cell phones for some time, but privacy concerns have delayed providing the information to emergency call centers until now. The location information is only available to call centers during, and for a short time after, a 9-1-1 call. 


“I understand there could be a lingering privacy concern, but dispatchers will only have access to locations during a 9-1-1 event,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe Disalvo. “We think the value in finding someone in need of help far outweighs privacy concerns. It’s been a sad but true joke in public safety for some time that Uber and Domino’s can find you better than 9-1-1. Now in a life or death situation, we can be as accurate as your pizza delivery or taxi driver,” said Disalvo. 


For the new technology to work, Apple phone users must install the latest software update, which is iOS 12. It can be found on most cell phones in “Settings”. Android users do not have to take any action, the technology is automatically activated when you call 9-1-1. 


“Local dispatchers must still be intimately familiar with the territory in which they work, with or without better cell phone location technology,” Loeb said. “We train constantly to be able to identify important landmarks in the community, and ‘what is the address of your emergency?’ will still be the first question we ask callers. But we now have better tools and technology to find you if you don’t know, or are unable to tell us where you are - and that can be a life or death difference.’”


Media Contacts:

Brett Loeb - Pitkin County Emergency Dispatch Director - 970-315-2184

Joe DiSalvo - Pitkin County Sheriff - 970-920-5300

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