While the FCC is still working on E911 in the US, European carriers are beginning to roll out an equivalent service to send your phone’s location to emergency services when you dial an emergency number. Google announced today that support for this possibly life-saving feature is already built into Android as part of Play Services.
Unlike landlines, smartphones do not provide an accurate location to emergency services even though over 70% of emergency calls are made on mobile phones. Cell tower location has a radius of several kilometers, while assisted GPS fails indoor. In its push to improve location accuracy, the FCC estimates that E911 response times could be reduced by a minute and save 10,000 lives annually.
While carriers have to do some work to add this feature, mobile operating systems also have to add support. It turns out that an Emergency Location Service has already been added to Android. It uses the same Wi-Fi, GPS, and cell towers that most apps use to produce “a more reliable emergency location both indoors and outdoors.”
Privacy-wise, this feature is only for emergency services providers and location is never seen or handled by Google. Additionally, it is only sent when a user explicitly places an emergency call. As it is part of Google Play Services, Android devices running version 2.3 or higher have support for this feature.
It is live starting today for those in the UK and Estonia, with Vodafone, O2, and others supporting the feature. Google hopes to bring Android’s Emergency Location Service to other countries in the near future.