112 Day: New technology designed to better locate EU citizens in distress

Last 11th February marked the anniversary of the single European emergency number 112, which receives an average of 255 million mobile emergency calls every year and constitutes an important technological tool to help EU citizens in distress.

Since an EU legislation introduced in 1991, European citizens can dial 112 at no cost in any EU country to reach emergency services. Every year, about 300 000 people who call emergency services are not able to accurately describe their location. This occurs for a variety of reasons: they may not know the name of the place, because they are too young to tell, or even sometimes too injured to communicate properly. In these cases, knowing the precise location of the person in distress can significantly increase reaction time and save lives.

Thanks to contemporary mobile and smart devices, emergency services can now quickly access the caller’s location via an SMS or data channel by using in-built Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) or Wi-Fi capabilities. A recently published report emphasized significant improvement for caller location in several EU countries. For instance, Lithuania upgraded its network based location solution to ensure significantly more accurate caller location. UK and Estonia deployed the Advance Mobile Location (AML) handset-based caller location solution which can locate a person to within 100m. An EU-financed project - HELP 112 – looked into how GNSS can improve caller location using the AML solution. It was tested in the UK, Lithuania, Italy and parts of Austria. Currently AML handset based caller location for emergency services is available only on Android phones.

The Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Mr Andrus Ansup declared: "I welcome this very important step which helps people in distress and showcases how digital technologies can make our lives safer. I hope that in the future all Europeans will be able to benefit from more effective emergency services thanks to caller location solutions."

On the other hand, Commissioner Elżbieta Bienkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry highlighted the important role of the EU satellite based navigation system Galileo, underlining how space data is making a difference in daily lives of EU citizens.

The EC does not only fund research, it is also improving EU rules on 112. Last September the Commission proposed an update of EU telecoms rules in the form of an electronic communication code. Through this, the Commission wants to improve the relevant provisions of the Universal Service Directive in order to facilitate the use of handset based caller location as complement to network based location data.

According to the proposal, Member States will be obliged to ensure that caller location, be it network based  (provided by the mobile operator), or handset based (retrieved from a GNSS or WiFi enabled phone), arrives in a timely manner to the Public Safety Answering Point which handles emergency calls. Notwithstanding the technology used, caller location will be free for citizens and the Public Safety Answering Points.