Android phones: Dialing 911 now automatically shares your location

Android phones now help emergency services find mobile callers faster and with more accuracy.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google has rolled out Emergency Location Service (ELS) for Android phones in the US, so calls to 911 will now automatically share a device's location with emergency services.

Google is partnering with T-Mobile and emergency service tech provider RapidSOS to deliver ELS in the US. For the US Virgin Islands, Google is partnering with emergency tech firm West and local wireless provider Viya.

ELS is supported on Android 4.0 and above, which means about 99 percent of Android device owners can benefit from improved location-sharing during an emergency call. Users don't need to install a separate app or update the OS.

The location information is shared with emergency services without going through Google servers.

As CNET points out, the vast majority of emergency calls in the US are made from mobile devices, according to stats from the National Emergency Number Association.

The new system could help in scenarios when someone calls 911 from a mobile but can't explain his or her location accurately to the operator, for example, if they don't know the area, cannot speak English, or if the call is cut off.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (cover story PDF)

Emergency service centers in the US say ELS helps more than halve the 'average uncertainty radius', from 552 feet to 121 feet or 159 meters to 37 meters, according to Google.

Android support for ELS in the US comes as Apple rolls out iOS 12, the first version of iOS to enable ELS for iPhone users. Apple announced the emergency call-location feature in June and is also partnering with RapidSOS.

ELS indoor and outdoor location data relies on a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi, mobile networks, and sensors.

Google has already rolled out ELS support in 14 other countries, so it has a few real-life examples where it's helped.

In New Zealand, a person reported a fire but was unsure where on the highway he was. Fire and Emergency New Zealand were able to use ELS to locate the caller and the fire.

The New Zealand government recently reported that 20 percent of the 145,000 calls made since its ELS system was deployed have relied on the automatically shared location data.


ELS is supported on Android version 4.0 and above, so 99 percent of Android devices are covered.

Image: Google

Previous and related coverage

Apple to iPhone owners: 'iOS 12 will auto-share your location in 911 calls'

Calling 911 from an iPhone will soon automatically share the device's location with 911 centers.

Google teams up with T-Mobile on more-accurate 911 location data (CNET)

Enhanced location service runs on 99 percent of active Android phones.

Here's how to disable Emergency SOS on iPhone and Apple Watch

Apple's iOS 11 includes a great SOS feature for when you feel unsafe in an emergency, but you may want to disable the feature on your iPhone or Apple Watch to avoid accidentally calling 911.

Baltimore emergency 911 dispatch hacked, taken offline for 17 hours (TechRepublic)

The cyberattack slowed emergency response times as dispatchers had to resort to manual methods.

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