Commercial Systems Touted for Indoor Emergency Services

August 27, 2015  - By
TCS' Matt Vincent poses with public safety gear that includes Taoglas Storm Antenna at APCO.

TCS’ Matt Vincent poses with public safety gear that includes Taoglas Storm Antenna at APCO.

It is refreshing to see nascent technology such as indoor location being used to enable accurate emergency services response. That’s what’s going on right now as beacons, Wi-Fi and other technology that works inside, where GPS doesn’t work, is being tested nationwide by companies hoping for government adoption. With new FCC regulations that are finally trying to keep up with commercial location products, it may be a reality soon. What really drove location into wireless handsets was the 1990s FCC regulations — will they now drive indoor positioning?

GSI Labs' John Martin holds indoor beacon at APCO.

GSI Labs’ John Martin holds indoor beacon at APCO.

WASHINGTON — The same technology that allows consumers to find products indoors will allow emergency personnel to locate people in trouble in the coming years, said officials at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) annual meeting here, held Aug. 16-19.

Companies are using existing commercial technologies, also used by retailers to determine customer preferences, to provide indoor location in combination with the National Emergency Address Database. This provides public-safety answering points, or PSAPs, accurate addresses and positions to dispatch emergency services to allow first responders to find people on specific floors and in rooms, not huge areas.

Beacons and Wi-Fi seem to be the lead technologies in use for emergency indoor location. Longmont, Colo.-based Intrado installed 65 Apple iBeacons at the Washington Convention Center to showcase its developing indoor positioning technology.

“Old 9-1-1 technology was just a dot on the map. Now people are saying, ‘how can Starbucks can find me, but 9-1-1 can’t?’” said John Snapp, Intrado senior technical officer.

Another company, TeleCommunication Systems, is getting into the indoor public safety market with its LocatE9-1-1 product that leverages the company’s indoor location engine, or ILE. The ILE connects to multiple databases that can be used during a 9-1-1 call to determine what location information is available for the wireless device.

“Deep inside buildings, location technology often fails us. Sometimes emergency workers have to rely on verbal information [from people at the scene],” said Tim Lorello, TCS senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “We are a location aggregator. However, we do know location won’t be deployed everywhere, but there are multiple technologies tied to Wi-Fi hotspots, barometric pressure and Bluetooth.”

In addition to government agencies, wireless carriers are taking notice of the indoor positioning capabilities for public safety. At APCO, GSI Labs, a 20-year-old business, was in the AT&T booth displaying its codeBlue-911 beacon system. “We think that for bigger venues such as warehouses and stores, this is a great public safety tool. The [Bluetooth Low Energy] beacons have about 20-to-50-foot accuracy, depending on the battery,” said GSI Labs’ John Martin. “A security company is looking at using the beacons to monitor employees during the night.”

OnStar booth features wrecked car to portray emergency messaging capabilities at APCO.

OnStar booth features wrecked car to portray emergency messaging capabilities at APCO.

FCC Still at Forefront of Location Accuracy Requirements

In an address at the conference, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the agency has taken steps to increase the reliability of the nation’s 9-1-1 system. “Uber can pinpoint [a potential customer]. We won’t tolerate 9-1-1 failures,” said Wheeler, who also called for a national maps database.

Some people newer to the location industry don’t remember it was the enhanced 9-1-1 FCC rules that drove the installation of GPS into cell phones in the mid-1990s. In several presentations at APCO, it was noted that more than 80 percent of all emergency calls are made with a wireless device, not landline.

The FCC announced new rules this year that require wireless operators to provide dispatchable location within 50 meters with these new deadlines and conditions: 40 percent of all wireless 9-1-1 calls within 2 years; 50 percent within 3 years; 70 percent within 5 years; and 80 percent within 6 years.

If anyone doesn’t think the FCC is the 800-pound regulatory gorilla for location, then they have missed the LightSquared GPS signal interference saga. According to published reports, LightSquared has hired Reed Hundt, former FCC chairman, as an attorney representing the company.

LightSquared, which is trying to emerge from bankruptcy, has been seeking FCC approval to transfer its spectrum licenses to its new entity. The company is trying to see if the GPS interference issues can be resolved.

In other APCO news, Time Machines rolled out its TM 2000A timing device that costs $499.95. The big deal about the timing device is the price — which has many of the same features that competitors offer for more than $5,000, said Doug Ehlers, Mindshare by CSS president, a sister company of Time Machines, who also said the company is expanding its distribution in Europe.

Gimbal Partners with Do It Outdoors Media

While emergency networks are getting big, the commercial networks are continuing to make inroads with advertising agencies and partners. Location and proximity-based marketing company Gimbal recently partnered with Do It Outdoors Media in a deal that will use Gimbal’s beacon technology.

Gimbal said that Do It Outdoors Media, which is the largest national mobile billboard and field marketing company, will create a smartphone campaign that provides proximity-based consumer offers to opt-in users.

Beacons will be placed in Do It Outdoors Media’s mobile billboard units, which are owned and operated by the company. In addition, there will be product placement on Segways, jet packs, brand ambassador teams and other marketing sites.

Gimbal says that when a consumer enters into a beacon zone, which is effective from 50 meters away, content will be delivered through a push notification within an advertiser’s or a third-party mobile app.

In other location news:

  • While a small trade show for a focused group of government communication professionals, APCO drew 5,700 attendees, with 282 exhibitors. Conference organizers said it was the highest attended show in seven years.
  • An updated version of the former GPS-Wireless conference will take place Dec. 2-3 at the Crowne Plaza San Francisco Airport Hotel. The conference, Location IoT, will focus on new markets for M2M and the Internet of Things. Topics will include indoor location markets, connected vehicles and many others. Two hosted networking receptions are included. Contact me, Kevin Dennehy, at kdennehy @g for more information.
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About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.