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Public Safety and GPS

There are virtually endless uses of GPS in assisting public safety and disaster response teams as they respond to emergencies and prepare for the unexpected.

For public safety, first responders such as law enforcement, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel rely on GPS every day to provide critical instant location and route information. Precise location information shortens travel times, allowing quicker responses. In many cases, GPS can truly mean the difference between life and death. In others, time saved by its use can significantly mitigate property damage and loss.


Many federal, state and local public safety agencies operate emergency communications systems using digital trunked radio, which allows for near real-time GPS-based position reporting of officers and assets. Others rely on GPS for wireless E-911 location identification and to support dispatch operations. GPS-enabled devices like smartphones, tablets, and those installed in cars and boats, are used to locate vehicles, people, and emergency locations - enabling first responders to reach individuals in need even when they are unable to place a call.

As an integral part of worldwide search and rescue, the federal government operates the GPS-based SARSAT system to detect and locate mariners, aviators, and recreational enthusiasts in distress almost anywhere in the world. Since 1982, SARSAT has contributed to more than 28,000 worldwide rescues.

Use of GPS, and the mapping and navigation technologies which depend on it, have produced extraordinary benefits for public safety, first responders, and the people they protect.

Just one example: a recent research report commissioned by Google found that use of GPS-based technologies in the United Kingdom reduced travel times for ambulances responding to heart attack incidents by 18 percent. And, it found that each minute of response time saved improved the survival rate of heart attack victims by 7-10 percent. Based on these findings, researchers estimated that the use of GPS-dependent navigation technologies annually saved 152 lives just among UK heart attack victims. No global estimate of the lives saved annually by GPS has been developed, but given the efficiencies GPS provides all first responders it is obviously a very significant figure.

When it comes to disaster planning and response, GPS also serves a critical role.

GPS enables the creation of maps of disaster areas for search and rescue operations, and to assess damage. It has been critical to relief efforts following hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. In wildfire management, aviation GPS technology combined with infrared scanners can help firefighters identify "hot spots" and lead them to the correct location.

GPS can also be crucial in disaster prediction and prevention. GPS-enabled earthquake, volcano, dam and bridge measurement and monitoring systems, for instance, can detect tiny movements used in risk analysis. High-accuracy GPS networks are deployed along crustal faults and around volcanoes. The resulting data is used to study and better understand crustal movements that cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In addition to disaster prevention and relief, GPS is also used for weather services and scientific research.

Already a fundamental aspect of public safety as well as disaster preparedness and response, future innovations in GPS will save even more lives and enable faster responses in the wake of tragedies.

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