Taking emergency services back to the future

By Beatriz Peon
Monday, 07 October, 2019

Taking emergency services back to the future

Next Generation 112 seeks to harness the possibilities of the Internet of Things, smart cities and internet-based communications to help save lives.

A mere 30 years ago, few could have imagined the way technology would shape the world we live in. We may still be far from flying cars and time travel, but surely our hyperconnected reality would have then resembled nothing short of science fiction. The massive implementation of the internet and its further applications have forever changed the way we interact with our environment, proving that connectivity is key.

And connectivity remains at the heart of technological developments if we look at recent big trends such as the Internet of Things, smart cities and 5G, among others. It is thanks to these advancements that we can now confidently predict a near future where a safer and faster internet is integrated into many more aspects of our lives — not just on dedicated devices but in everyday objects and even into the cities we live in.

There is no doubt of the disruptive potential of these technologies: in Europe alone, these fields are seeing multiple high-level investments, with the European Commission earmarking 700 million euros for the 5G partnership and the EIP-SCC pledging 1 billion euros for 300 smart cities by 2020. But even as citizens everywhere are increasingly moving towards multimedia digital channels for their regular communications, emergency services continue to be accessible only by traditional voice call.

Next Generation 112 (NG112) aims to “modernise how citizens can reach help in case of emergency and to interconnect emergency services”.

From emergency calls to emergency communications

The concept of NG112 relies on developing a technical architecture that will integrate new technologies with emergency services by moving communications to internet-based protocols. Emergency response centres would thus be prepared to receive not just voice, but real-time text, photos, video calls and other data. Accessing all these new modalities of communications would provide emergency responders with invaluable insight into the situation they are dealing with, greatly improving their work and results.

Not only can NG112 revolutionise the way citizens communicate with emergency services, but the concept also calls for interconnecting emergency services organisations by creating dedicated networks that will provide new possibilities and improvement of their working processes. This way, emergency services organisations can collaborate and support each other; for example, by diverting calls from an overloaded centre to its neighbours or through a more efficient routing that identified the language of the caller. Moreover, moving onto dedicated networks for public safety organisations would also render them less vulnerable to cyber attacks, securing emergency response and continuity of service in the event of crises.

The future is here...

Upgrading to ‘emergency communications’ and allowing for the collection of far more data can only result in an optimised, more efficient response. Technology is bringing the future closer than ever, and the possibilities coming with it can be, literally, life-saving. But are we making the most out of them?

Implementing NG112 addresses many difficulties currently faced by emergency services and citizens. Just by enabling live text and video communications, public safety organisations would be able to grant accessibility to emergency services to citizens living with disabilities. In Europe alone, they represent 80 million of the total population and are routinely excluded from access to emergency response as this service remains voice-call based only.

Other outcomes of integrating already existing technologies would enable emergency services to receive immediate caller location information, and to provide remote assistance in emergencies. Telecommunications and data transfer technologies can bring doctors to remotely assess the condition of patients in real time as they are being transported in ambulances. This scenario is already a reality in places like Aachen (Germany), where a holistic telemedicine system has been in place for five years.

Possibilities of connectivity to emergency services extend as well to connected objects. As the market expands for wearables (activity bracelets, smart watches) and other devices, these could be enabled to contact emergency services and transfer vital information in case of emergency. We are already witnessing some applications where connected objects can be configured to save lives. Recently this year, an intelligent watch called emergency services after detecting its 80-year-old wearer had fallen in her apartment in Germany.

Once integrated, bilateral communications could be made possible between emergency services and connected devices. Not only would intelligent objects be able to alert emergency services, they could also broadcast public warning messages (what is called ‘reverse 112’). Intelligent home speakers could in this way alert of nearby emergencies, such as a breaking fire, and inform their users on how to react.

A person using a mobile phone

©stock.adobe.com/au/Kaspars Grinvalds

Some of these integrations are already a reality in the United States and Canada, which pioneered their concept of next-generation emergency services: NG911. Launched by the American National Emergency Number Association almost 20 ago it sought to acknowledge and embrace a new base technology. Efforts resulted in many states moving quickly towards the implementation of NG911. One of these states was Maine, where the switch was motivated by the need to modernise an ageing emergency response system and adapt it to a growing data-rich environment, as explained at the 2019 EENA Conference by Maria Jacques, President of the US National Association of State 911 Administrators. Immediate benefits of this transition included calls being transferred based on caller location, flexible routing of calls, a system easier to access and update, and cost savings amounting to over US$1 million annually.

NG112 is still almost non-existent in Europe, where most emergency services remain reachable only by voice call. Latest developments include EENA’s pilot project, launched last April, which brings together international consortia where partners will test the technical architecture enabling NG112 in different European countries, with a focus on demonstrating its use in real-life environments.

Emergency services from Austria, Italy, Denmark, Croatia and Turkey have replied to EENA’s initiative and presented their plans to test NG112. At the end of the project, the lessons learned and final results will be shared with the community.

We need to make it happen

NG112 is not only the next step in emergency communications but a crucial one. As telecommunications move towards internet-based protocols, the public switched telephone network is set to be phased out soon. This move risks to render emergency numbers inaccessible if they remain one of the services available only by traditional phone calls.

Technology evolves, so does the way we interact with it and our environment, and, of course, the way we communicate. Emergencies are not an exception, and citizens in distress will expect to be able to reach out via the communications methods they use every day. This is a revolution emergency services must not be excluded from, but rather embrace this opportunity to become more efficient, accessible and flexible, launching a new generation of emergency communications.

Beatriz Peon works as PR & Communications Manager at EENA, a Brussels-based NGO with the mission to contribute to improving the safety and security of people in Europe and beyond.

Make sure you don't miss the Next Generation Triple Zero presentation by Chris Beatson at Comms Connect Melbourne in November. Beatson is Director, NSW Police Force–PoliceLink Command, and lead on the National Emergency Management Program Project — Next Generation Triple Zero (000). His presentation is scheduled for Thursday, 28 November 2019 at 11.30 am.

Main image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/maria_savenko

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