Geolocation is a form of technology utilized by 911 which allows a phone number to be aware of the caller’s location in order to route them to the nearest public safety answering point and dispatch first responders to their precise location. Initially, a cell tower location is utilized to route a caller to the nearest PSAP. Then, wireless carriers automatically transmit location information to the PSAP in the form of horizontal x,y coordinates. As of July 2020, the FCC also requires wireless providers to provide dispatchers z-location, which allows for dispatchers to know what floor the caller is on to provide aid.
In contrast, 988 lacks geolocation capabilities. 988 routes callers to call centers based on their area code, which can be vastly different from their location at the moment. If call centers in their area code are experiencing a high call volume, the caller will be sent to a national backup center. The ability to identify the location of the caller in an emergency is dependent upon the information the caller gives.
Given 988’s critical role in emergency mental health crisis response, it is essential for 988 to have geolocation capabilities in order to save lives.
80% of calls are placed by cell phone and given that these devices are mobile, area codes may not necessarily correctly convey the caller’s actual location.
Only 2% of calls to the lifeline required emergency services. But in instances where someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves or others, every minute counts.
Further, some Lifeline callers at imminent risk of suicide may be unable to or are unwilling to collaborate with counselors to provide their location.
With geolocation capabilities, 988 can reduce delays to life-saving pathways. This can first be seen in the potential for improved rapport between crisis counselors and callers. Due to having a shared community and knowledge of the community’s unique stressors, crisis counselors in centers near the caller’s true location can better build bonds and provide relevant information on local resources and follow-up care to counselors. In the rare case of needing to conduct an active rescue, location information will reduce delays in accessing emergency interventions. Further, geolocation improves the ability of states to acquire 988 metrics and evaluate crisis care needs by obtaining call data from the caller’s location rather than the state area code.