January 20, 2022

GeoComm Perspective: Understanding the Urgency for Indoor Maps

The 9-1-1 industry is at a unique point in time:   

  • Next Generation 9-1-1 deployments are underway; 

  • FCC requirements for Z-axis are shaping the way actionable location information is provided to 9-1-1;  

  • Tremendous increase in the amount of disparate data; and  

  • Technology advancements allow 9-1-1 caller location, X,Y,Z to now be delivered to the PSAP. In order to make this information actionable, indoor maps are needed.  

Today, we are focusing on the last bullet and a challenge facing 9-1-1 decision makers each day,How are we going to locate 9-1-1 callers indoors particularly in complex buildings like a school, shopping mall, high-rise apartment complex, or airport?   

The majority of 9-1-1 calls are from wireless devices with some areas reporting as high as 90 percent wireless 9-1-1 call volume.  Further, many of the 9-1-1 calls are placed indoors since mobile phones are so easily accessible.  Location accuracy becomes a challenge indoors since it can be difficult for a telecommunicator to pinpoint the exact location of the caller’s device. 


Today, most people expect that 9-1-1 call centers can pinpoint their exact location during emergency calls, even inside of buildings.  Unfortunately, you do not have to look far to find high profile cases where challenges locating 9-1-1 callers indoors have contributed to increased emergency response times, and even tragic outcomes.

While new regulations, standards, and technologies are emerging that can provide position measurements for wireless 9-1-1 callers indoors, all too often this information is not actionable, and provides little more than a blue dot on an otherwise blank whiteboard for emergency responders.  The advancements in indoor positioning for 9-1-1 create an opportunity to reduce emergency response times inside large and complex indoor environments, but this opportunity will go unrealized without details and context about indoor spaces that can be combined with raw positioning measurements.  As a result, there is an urgent need for indoor maps for 9-1-1 and public safety emergency responders. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has made locating 9-1-1 callers indoors a priority by enacting new rules that require wireless carriers to calculate indoor positions, including in three dimensions, for 9-1-1 calls from mobiles phones.

One of the FCC commissioners, Geoffrey Starks commented:

“It is essential that help arrives in the right place and on the right floor. Only floor level accuracy will give first responders the right tools to go to the right floor, the first time, every time. We need a plan to get there and that plan has to get it done as quickly as possible.”

While the FCC rules provide 9-1-1 positioning requirements for wireless carriers, providing local GIS mapping requirements is out of scope.  The original FCC ruling notes that 9-1-1 call centers will need to implement technology such as 9-1-1 mapping applications that can make the new caller position information actionable.

Indoor details and context information can bring benefit to public safety professionals responsible for protecting life and property during emergencies.  As an example, the following video depicts an indoor caller location with and without indoor maps.


With over 173 million buildings in the United States, it is important to note that responsibility goes beyond PSAPs and 9-1-1 authorities, and extends across state and local government, vendors and systems / service providers, building owners and operators, and the community at large.  We all play a role in making the indoor environments in which we work and do business safer during 9-1-1 calls.

As a result, 9-1-1 authorities need to begin planning for indoor mapping as additional GIS data layers within their mapping solutions.  Such planning includes elements such as:


  • Educating key stakeholders across the public safety enterprise on the challenges associated with lack of context around the location information

  • Promoting the impact of indoor maps for reducing emergency response times, protecting more property, and saving more lives

  • Researching options for adding indoor maps to your 9-1-1 PSAP mapping application (important requirements include 9-1-1 and CAD mapping application support of indoor positioning and indoor maps, as well as floor selection and other tools for easily accessing and toggling indoor maps)

  • Identifying opportunities for public private partnerships where public and community calls to action can help bring in indoor maps for critical building assets and locations in the community

Are you interested in learning more about the value of indoor maps and discussing how to start your indoor mapping program is so attend our webinar Getting The Most Out Of Your Public Safety GIS Data Including Indoor Maps on Wednesday, January 26 at 1:00 p.m. Central Time.


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