The rise of smartphones and precise location data creates an opportunity for faster and better emergency response. The challenge in harnessing these technological advances is integrating them with 911 legacy systems developed decades ago.
RapidSOS, winner of the 2014 Harvard Public Sector Innovation Award*, is a platform designed to transmit data from smartphones into any existing 911 architecture. Founders Michael Martin and Nick Horelik bonded over their personal experiences with emergency communication and a mutual desire to integrate modern technology with the existing system. They began designing the platform while consulting with dozens of emergency dispatch centers. “We had to dispense with many preconceived notions,” Martin said. “If not for our partnership with the 911 community, today we’d have really cool technology that simply doesn’t work.”
An FCC study reports that over 10,000 lives are lost annually due to inadequate location information on emergency calls. Moreover, 73 percent of 911 calls are made with mobile phones, which the existing infrastructure was not designed to accommodate. With RapidSOS, a smartphone can instantly send precise location data to the appropriate local dispatcher.
If you’re a civilian in distress, this means any call or text you make to 911 from your smartphone will reach the appropriate local dispatcher without the need for transfer from a regional center. Moreover, the smartphone’s location data will be vastly more precise than what can be determined by standard mobile phones (which involves triangulation between cell phone towers). Automatic location data is vital because the caller cannot often provide accurate information verbally, either because coherent conversation is impossible, or they’re unaware of their location, or their mobile phone signal is too weak.
If you have downloaded the RapidSOS “Haven” app, you can also alert a dispatcher with one touch, sending location data plus any preset medical information (allergies, emergency contacts, etc.). The Haven app will also alert all preset friends and family members. For the emergency dispatcher, the data appears before them just as it would with a traditional call, which means there’s no retraining necessary for personnel.
After two years incubating the RapidSOS platform at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, the fast-growing team has raised $5 million in venture investment and reestablished their headquarters in NYC. They recently conducted a soft launch of their Haven app in partnership with hundreds of dispatchers and leading telecom companies. Based on preliminary analysis of over 14,000 test calls, the platform will reduce mortality by 10 percent, healthcare costs by 6.9 percent, and property damage by 20 percent. Haven will be broadly available to the public by the spring of 2016.
RapidSOS is also gearing up to offer a full suite of emergency communication technologies within the next 1-3 years, Martin said. “Once you have precise knowledge of when and where emergencies occur, you can start to build predictive models.” They’re now building a platform that predicts and pre-empts certain types of emergencies. For instance, by analyzing over 50 variables like precipitation rates and traffic patterns, RapidSOS can predict with precision the increased collision risk at certain intersections during inclement weather. “The available data and technology is creating a paradigm shift in how we’re thinking about emergency communication,” Martin said, “moving us from mere response to preventing emergencies before they occur.”
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*The annual Public Sector Innovation Award, launched by Leadership for a Networked World, Harvard University, and Accenture, encourages Harvard students to apply their creative energy to help solve pressing public-sector challenges and to foster the next generation of government leaders. Each year’s winner receives $10,000 in grant funding, access to Harvard and Accenture thought leaders, and incubation space to develop their project proposal. Learn more and apply at http://tech.seas.harvard.edu/harvardi3/.
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