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Denver 911: Update your phone for faster response times

Posted at 9:19 PM, Oct 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 00:16:22-04

DENVER — The biggest 911 call center in the state is turning to existing smartphone technology to locate people faster and more accurately when emergencies happen. All you need to do is download a software update.

“Right now, because such a high percentage of calls come from mobile devices, sometimes it takes us up to two minutes to get someone's location,” Denver’s 911 Director Athena Butler said.

And using the usual method of getting a caller’s location from cell phone towers isn’t always accurate. It can be up to 300 feet off in some cases.

“We want it to be even more accurate so when we’re sending uniformed first responders to you were sending them to exactly where you are,” Butler said.

So Denver 911 partnered with the company Rapid SOS to use your smartphone’s location services to aid call dispatchers with where you are.

Instead of relying on cell towers or a caller to describe their location, “that information is coming directly from your device,” Butler explained.

It’s similar to the technology used by Uber and Lyft, that can narrow down your location to within a few feet.

“We’re getting that location information much more closer. I’m not going to say 100 percent, but it’s in the high 90 something percentage from what we’ve tested,” Butler said.

But the technology in Uber and Lyft has been around for years, so what took 911 so long to adopt it?

“We need it to be tested. We need it to be proven before we put it into place because people’s lives are on the line,” the director answered.

There is a caveat. Smartphone users need to download the most recent software update for their phones. For Apple users, that means the latest 12.0 OIS. Most Android phones version 4.0 and up will allow for their location to be sent when calling 911. If you don’t and you call 911, the only location dispatchers will have access to is via cell towers or your description.

Keep in mind your location is only sent to dispatchers when you actually dial 911 and are on the phone with the call taker. The new tech also allows operators to track your movement in real time while on the phone if you are driving or hiking for example.

Denver was the first 911 center in the state to partner with Rapid SOS for this form of location services. JeffCom in Jefferson County says they are working on installing it and other municipalities could follow.

The next major technology upgrade to 911 is determining a caller's elevation or z-axis.