911 calls need vertical location accuracy, FCC's Ajit Pai says

It would help first responders find what floor people are calling from in an apartment or office building.

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Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Finding 911 callers in a multi-story building requires vertical location accuracy.

Angela Lang/CNET

Location accuracy for apartments and offices needs to be improved so that first responders can locate 911 callers, US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai said Tuesday. Vertical -- or z-axis -- location accuracy fo within three meters would help when someone is calling from a multi-story building, Pai said.

"Even if first responders know which building you're in -- that is, your horizontal location -- they may still need your vertical location to determine which floor you're on," Pai said in a release.

It comes in to calls from the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs' Association and National Association of State EMS Officials for a three-meter z-axis metric.

If passed, the three-meter location accuracy would apply to 80% of indoor wireless 911 calls made from multi-story buildings. Pai also wants to work on closer vertical accuracy in future.

The FCC is set to vote on the proposal during its next meeting on Nov. 19.

 It follows the FCC expanding 911 location tracking to other calling platforms such as VoIP earlier this year.

Pai also pushed to implement Kari's Law in July, which would see dial-out requirements -- such as dialing 1 for an outside line in an office building -- removed from 911 calls being made from multiline phone systems. This includes offices, hotels, hospitals and college campuses.