Apple’s iOS 12 will save thousands of American lives

New iOS technology will enable emergency services to quickly locate and send help to people in need of it.

Apple, iOS, iOS 12, 911, emergency services
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Apple will introduce support for a new iPhone technology that will help save thousands of U.S. lives when it ships iOS 12, the company announced.

Help me, I’m here

The first 911 call was made on February 16, 1968.

Since then, usage has grown exponentially.

Today, over 650,000 calls are made in the U.S. each day, and over 200 million emergency calls are made in that country each year. Over 80 percent of these calls (handled by around 6,300 U.S. 911 call centers) come from mobile devices.

Knowing where someone is located makes a big difference in sending fast response to an emergency incident. Callers aren’t always in position to provide this information – they may not know where they are, may be injured, or otherwise incapacitated.

The expectation is that emergency services will be able to locate the caller, but this is not always the case. At present, it is difficult to accurately identify a mobile caller’s location quickly because the U.S. has an outdated landline-based network infrastructure.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is demanding carriers do something about this, insisting that they should be able to locate a caller within 50 meters over 80 percent of the time – but not until 2021.

“When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

In order to deliver better location data, Apple will introduce support for IP-based data generated by a firm called RapidSOS in iOS 12. This makes it possible for emergency services to locate callers within a 50-meter radius most of the time.

Apple already uses a technology called HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location), which is based on cellphone, GPS, and Wi-Fi data to help achieve this, but the new solution is even more efficient.

Real results

Enabling emergency services to access more accurate location data will deliver tangible results, according to estimates cited by Francesca Dominica, director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

It can deliver up to seven minutes faster response to an emergency call, which can itself help save an estimated "10,000 lives."

A2016 European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) report confirms this:

“Ambulance Service measurements show that, on average, 30 seconds per call can be saved if a precise location is automatically provided, and several minutes can be saved where callers are unable to verbally describe their location due to stress, injury, language or simple unfamiliarity with an area.”

Convenience without compromise

In an era in which convenience usually comes as a consequence of compromise, it is reassuring to note Apple’s promise to preserve customer privacy.

In a press release, it states that such user data “cannot be used for any non-emergency purpose and only the responding 911 center will have access to the user’s location during an emergency call.”

Apple isn’t solely focused on the U.S. when it comes to attempting to help emergency services reach iPhone owners who need assistance. 

As in the U.S., over 70 percent of emergency calls made in Europe are made from a mobile device. To meet this need, the company introduced support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML) earlier this year.

Available in the U.K., Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, Iceland, and New Zealand, AML can locate a caller within a radius of 50 meters over 85 percent of the time. 

Apple now offers multiple ways to help keep its customers safe, including:

  • The capacity to contact emergency services and access Medical ID card information directly from the Lock Screen
  • Support for government emergency notifications
  • Apple Watch and the Activity status monitors
  • The Health app
  • Emergency SOS

Apple will ship iOS 12 in fall. When it does, it has said that the new operating system will be compatible with devices all the way back to the 2013 iPhone 5s. This presumably mean these life-saving features will be available on iPhones sold between 2013-2018, making the new emergency services tools widely available.

Google tested the RapidSOS system earlier this year but failed to announce anything. 

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