22 Nov 2018

Emergency call locater expands service to reach more cell phones

7:39 am on 22 November 2018

New Zealand's emergency services will be able to save time and lives with improved locating technology.

A St John New Zealand ambulance

Advancements have been made to the emergency service location technology to pinpoint more 111 callers. Photo: ST JOHN NZ

Foreign cellphones can now be found and call takers now have an improved system to pinpoint where all 111 callers are located.

At an announcement at the Police's Wellington Communication's Centre yesterday, they unveiled the advancements they've made to their Emergency Caller Location Information service (ECLI).

In May last year, the emergency services rolled out a cell phone locating service, meaning if callers couldn't give their location, they could still be found.

However, it didn't work for every cell phone provider, or those without smart phones or foreigners using overseas cell phones.

Now the service was available to more devices, ECLI programme director Ben Quay said.

"It can be a smart phone, android or Apple as most people have, it could still work on Microsoft or if you still have a Blackberry it could probably work on that and old feature phones such as Nokias," he said.

Mr Quay said they could now track 95 percent of callers down to a 50m radius and the rest within a 2km radius.

Callers will still be asked where the emergency is, to avoid the blunder of help coming to a caller's address, who isn't with those who need it.

However, St John operations process manager Jackson Whitham said the improved locator would still speed up the call taking process, because they would not need to ask as many questions.

"In the future, it may look like 'Ambulance we can see you're calling from Mount Eden, what's your exact address?'. So we're working through a better way we can make this better and faster for everybody, because at the end of the day every second counts," he said.

Emergency call takers had found the tool extremely useful since it was first implemented, Mr Whitham said.

"There's a really good case where somebody was injured ... in the bush, and without someone, without this ECLI information, we wouldn't be able to find him as quickly as we did," he said.

Minister of Broadcasting, Communication and Digital Media Kris Faafoi views the emergency call location service.

Minister of Broadcasting, Communication and Digital Media Kris Faafoi views the emergency call location service. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

Mr Whitham said a helicopter was quickly dispatched, resulting in a life being saved.

Minister of Broadcasting, Communication and Digital Media Kris Faafoi said it would be particularly useful for tourists.

"We're one of the first countries outside of Europe to have this technology."

However, police central communications centre manager Mal Schwartfeger said there was more work to be done as the caller's number still had to be copied and pasted into the call taker's screen from another browser - taking up time.

"All of the changes will be completed by mid-2020, but already 400,000 caller locations have been found using this location technology in a single year."

That number is expected to jump to 780,000 once all the changes are made.

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