Calling all UK emergency services – let's create a digital coalition

Published:  20 August, 2014

West Midlands Fire Service is developing 999eye as an interim step into the digital future, explains Matt Wroughton, Emergency Response, Technical and Operational Support Directorate, WMFS.

Statistics show that, in the UK alone, over 40 million people will be using smart phones by 2017 and emergency services receive most calls for response from mobile phones.

Multiple case studies are available demonstrating the impact and capabilities of technology, social media, and citizens’ desire to be proactive when seconds count.

We live in an age where we have seen the birth of the ‘citizen reporter’ – releasing images and footage to the world of scenes of carnage, whilst others are on a phone attempting to convey the scene verbally to emergency services.

Emergency services are looking for the best practice with social media and how to monitor and pick up on any on-the-ground information that will aid them in responding effectively.

West Midlands Fire Service is keen to raise the profile of this project and feel this system offers a great interim step to enhance the current 999/112/111 systems.

It will be utilised to enable, on appropriate occasions, a smarter response to emergencies – the right resources in the right place responding with as much information as possible.

The key points about the system

  • Point-to-point streaming during a 999 call (not like  mainstream video calling systems for example, that  utilise a midpoint server)
  • Another form of mapping for accurate location, WiFi, GPS and cell
  • Service-initiated system with consent/opt outs from both  parties
  • No impact on the current 999 emergency call system
  • No recording on the smart phone, only at the service end
  • Suitable for any agency
  • Equality Impact Assessment
  • A system that can be used by anyone with the ability to  use a smart phone.

WMFS are on a programme to develop and deliver this system, and we want to share it and offer it out free to all UK Emergency Services.

We are looking for any emergency service that would be interested in piloting this product with us, and ask you to contact us if you would like further or specific information about the implications of your service being involved.

Please raise it with your organisation; we will be hosting a coalition day at West Mids.

Why we need eye999

Highlighted below is the issue that first responders face every day, as they rush with limited information about what they are going to, and what they will face when they arrive.

Excerpt from 999eye's blog – does this sound familiar?

999 operator: “Which service do you require?”

Caller: “Police, or ambulance… err, all of them.”

999 operator: “Ok, connecting you to police”. (20 seconds total call handling.)

Control Operator: “Hello what’s the nature of the call?”

Caller: “There’s a fight, about 20 lads in the street going mental! My boyfriend’s hurt. I need an ambulance, they have set fire to a house, please hurry!”

Control operator: “Ok, slow down, we will be with as soon as we can. Do you know where you are?”

Caller: “Yes, outside XXX. Please hurry – my boyfriend’s bleeding really badly. I think they are going to kill someone, there’s a really bad fire.”

Control Operator: “Ok, we have got officers on the way to you, stay calm. I need to request an ambulance for you. Can you tell me the nature of his injuries? And where is the fire?”

Caller: “He’s been stabbed, please help me, what do I do? There’s so much blood, please help me.” (Control operator hears commotion in the background.)

Ask yourself: what resources would you expect services to send? Two minutes later, police, fire and ambulance first responders are now en route – but to what?

The priority for them is to get there quickly (but safely), whilst also trying to imagine what they may need when they arrive, based on next to no information.

When they arrive, minutes later, they will either be relieved that it isn’t as bad as the limited description depicted, or alternatively they will be thrown into a scene of utter chaos. Outnumbered by people needing them, under-resourced, with limited information to act upon.

They have to quickly comprehend what they are looking at, scale the issues and gather information, then process it into manageable sections, prioritising life, property, environment. People from the communities they serve look to them to sort out this mess, save life, protect property, remove risk and restore order.

Meanwhile on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, smartphone-captured images and footage are bouncing around. On occasions, people in other parts of the country or even the world know more than the emergency service en route.

It was with this in mind that West Midlands Fire Service began to look for solutions in 2013 – solutions to enable callers to offer more information using smartphones.

Following wide research, development and testing, the Emergency Response team at WMFS are now developing software they call 999eye. We are hoping to pilot this software in 2014 and are looking for interested blue light response organisations to join us.

Essentially, the system will only be utilised as an enhancement to the 999 call, on occasions when emergency services sense value in being able to see the incident from the caller’s perspective, and callers are willing to stream it to them.

Once the stream is running, accurate mapping will identify the exact location of the caller and – where possible – imagery from the stream will be forwarded to responders en route.

Consider these questions:

  • If you were in a position to carry out life-saving first aid, wouldn’t you rather a medical expert were able to see what  you needed to do, guide you through it, and thereby give someone the best chance of survival?
  • If you were reporting a fire, car crash or rescue, wouldn’t you rather the services sent a targeted response that would be up to the task in hand?
  • If you saw those blue lights finally moving closer up the road to you, wouldn’t you rather the first responders on  board had as much information as possible in order to speed up the decision-making process and corrective actions  once they stepped out of the vehicle?
  • If you were a responder, wouldn’t you want as much digestible information and imagery as possible when responding to incidents?

Contact Matt Wroughton on:

  • Operation Florian

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