The Joplin Police Department's emergency communications center is now using a form of technology that allows 911 dispatchers to receive more accurate location data from callers, particularly from those using smartphones.

The program, RapidSOS Clearinghouse, is free to authorized emergency communications centers nationwide. It works by collecting data — primarily the location of the device being used — from iPhones using at least iOS 12 and versions 4.0+ of Android phones, as well as certain apps like Uber, wearable devices and connected homes and cars, and delivering that data directly to dispatchers.

Cheryl Konarski, Joplin's communications manager, said the technology update was "sorely needed." She said the emergency communications center has already used the program several times and has been pleased with its accuracy.

"This technology is at the forefront in helping us locate callers who either don't know their location or for callers where we may need to verify that information," she said in a statement from the Joplin Police Department. "Time is critical — seconds count, and location is the key piece we need. The location of the emergency is the most important piece we need, and RapidSOS helps us with that."

The department said the technology is an improvement over the prior system because the 911 infrastructure was initially designed for landlines and provides little data to first responders.

"Before, when we got a 911 call, if it came from a cellphone, we'd get the number and location based off triangulation from a cell tower," Konarski said in a follow-up interview with the Globe. "But the degree of uncertainty (from cell tower data) is about 50 meters, about the length of an Olympic swimming pool. If you've got a large crowded area, it could be hard to find that person.

"With RapidSOS, it's locating (the caller) based on the cellphone, so we get a much better degree of certainty of where that person is. Plus, it will track and follow them while they're still on 911, so if they're moving, we can move with them."

The data is only available to dispatchers when the emergency communications center receives a 911 call within its boundaries. It also is available only for a short time after disconnecting with the call, and it's used only to help locate callers who dial 911 for assistance.

"We cannot use it in any investigative matter to try to locate somebody in that way," Konarski said. "The system is set up where it won't let you do that. It's only going to be used for emergency situations."

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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