Wednesday, 24 May 2017 - 4:53pm

Callers in need now easier to find

2 min read

News article photos (2 items)

Communicator Andrew Wilson at work at Central Comms, with PCL running on his right-hand screen.
PCL can pinpoint a caller's location to within metres.

It is getting easier for Communications Centre staff to pinpoint the location of emergency callers who are unable or unwilling to say where they are, thanks to Probable Caller Location (PCL).

In the right circumstances, PCL can use cell, wifi or GPS data to locate a mobile phone used to call 111 - to within a few metres.

It was introduced this month and quickly proved its value. In one case it pinpointed trampers lost in bush to within a six-metre radius. In another, it revealed a suicidal woman was actually standing on the line at a suburban railway station when she dialled 111.

“Communicators absolutely love it,” says Inspector Paul Jermy, Centre Manager at Central Comms in Wellington and business lead on the project.

“One of the most stressful parts of their job is trying to find out where callers are when they’re distressed and in need of help but can’t tell us or don’t know where they are.”

Around 80 percent of the 2.5 million 111 calls made each year are from mobile phones.

The introduction results from a project led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to provide all emergency services with caller location information.

Staff currently open PCL on a separate webpage but it will be fully integrated with comms centre systems later in the year.

Information received may include:

  • network (cell tower) location;
  • a location based upon the wifi connections the caller’s phone can ‘see’; or
  • GPS coordinates of the caller’s phone.

The high-precision GPS or wifi information is initially only available for calls from Android phones, which make up 70 percent of New Zealand’s mobile market. MBIE is working with Apple to identify ways to access such data from iPhones.

Network (cell tower) information will be available for callers on the Spark network from around August 2017.

An amendment to the Telecommunications Privacy Code has been approved by the Privacy Commissioner, setting boundaries on the use and retention of information.

Caller location is a one-way ‘push’ of information which means Police can only access the location of a mobile phone which has been used for a 111 call.

Information held only reflects the location at the time the call was made and cannot be used to track movements. Location information is deleted after 60 minutes unless it has been entered into a CARD event.

“Public confidence that location information is properly protected is important,” says Paul. “The amendment requires Police to be as open and transparent as possible about the system.”

Points to note:

  • Access to PCL is available only to Comms staff using a CARD terminal;

  • When PCL information is used, it is copied into the corresponding CARD event chronology by Comms; 

  • PCL does not provide 100 percent accuracy 100 percent of the time; staff still conduct verbal verification questioning, with PCL supporting that process.