Bluetooth Beacons Steer First Responders To Victims Faster

Hannah Roberts at Clarion Events interviewed Ryan Jensen, Director of Technology and Compliance at T-Mobile and Steve Statler, Head of Ecosystem Adoption at NEAD to discover more about the project, and how they are utilizing Bluetooth beacons to get responders to victims in a timely manner.


Tell me a bit about the ELOC / 911 National Emergency Address Database project.

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An average of 465,000 9-1-1 calls are made in the USA each day, and this number is increasing over time as more and more people depend solely on mobile phones. A significant percentage of these calls are made from indoors, and the responders to these calls rely on accurate location information to get to the victims quickly. Historically, this has been a great challenge, and wireless carriers are working closely with public safety officials to improve automatic location information for these callers.


In 2015, the FCC released their Fourth Report & Order on Wireless 911 Location Accuracy Requirements that mandated specific performance benchmarks which increase over time. One of the fundamental tools identified to address these requirements is the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD), created to help improve indoor location information. Currently, location estimates are provided in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates, which can sometimes be inaccurate, and must be translated into a civic address before they can be used to dispatch emergency help. The NEAD is allowing us to move toward the direct provision of a civic address for indoor emergency calls, which would accurately guide the dispatch of emergency crews to the right address. The NEAD can also provide important information about the location of the person in distress within a large building, which can be very significant in a large multi-story building. “Time is brain” as a doctor said to a friend of mine who recovered from a stroke recently. Note that the NEAD will be used exclusively for locating 911 callers and not for any commercial purpose.


What is the role of Bluetooth in the development of the NEAD?


All of the national wireless carriers in the U.S. are committed to helping develop the NEAD. The initial emphasis was on Wi-Fi access points, which are now fairly ubiquitous and standardized, but we realized we could also leverage Bluetooth beacons to acquire civic addresses for first responders.


Wi-Fi access points were primarily deployed to enable connectivity, whereas Bluetooth beacons were specifically designed to be a simple, low cost way of providing information on presence and location. Additionally, Bluetooth beacons are much smaller than Wi-Fi access points with a more accurate RF footprint and explosive growth projections.


Bluetooth has come a long way, and now many of the new generations of LED lighting fixtures are starting to come with Bluetooth radios, so we are getting a blanket of location cues that are available to us. The cost of Bluetooth is so low that adding these radios to things like smoke detectors and exit signs is becoming much more feasible. Anywhere there is a Bluetooth radio, there is the potential to provide location information which can contribute to the NEAD and improve public safety. The overall goal is to leverage all available positioning methods to produce the most useful and accurate location estimate for all 911 calls – regardless of whether they are placed indoors or outdoors, in a single-story or a high-rise building, in dense urban or rural areas, on the latest smartphone or a low-end feature phone. 


How successful has the project been so far and what are your plans for the future?


The project has been a big undertaking. The first step was to form the ELOC task force (emergency location) under the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) to develop the NEAD specifications. These were released in September 2016, and the plan is to evaluate the performance of the NEAD in the industry Test Bed this year, and begin providing service for 911 calls next year. We hope to be able to provide actionable ‘dispatchable locations’ for a significant proportion of indoor wireless 911 calls, that will send first responders to the correct civic address – including building floor or apartment or suite, where applicable in multi-story buildings.


Looking forward, we would like to see the Bluetooth community become a part of enhancing the 911 system. This is an extremely important use case with the potential to save lives. Policy makers and public officials will come to expect Bluetooth providers to contribute data to the NEAD in support of 911. I envision leveraging Bluetooth beacons that are deployed for various unrelated commercial purposes, as well as perhaps dedicated emergency service deployments: Emergency signs and smoke detectors and so on, for the overall benefit of 911 callers across the country. For more info, visit Bluetooth World Event.


Ryan Jensen and Steve Statler will both be speaking at Bluetooth World 2018 which takes place on September 18 & 19 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. Their session, ‘Bluetooth for public safety; How innovation in the wireless industry is improving 911 location accuracy’ will describe how they are utilizing Bluetooth beacons, and how the rest of the ecosystem can get involved.

Entry to the exhibition is FREE and just $99 to attend all seminars – including the keynote seminar by Ryan and Steve – as well as all developer sessions. Register today at

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