County previews RapidSOS emergency location tech

Date Published: 
May 26, 2017

Coastal Point • Submitted : RapidSOS co-founder Michael Martin makes a test call at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center as EOC Director Joe Thomas observes.Coastal Point • Submitted : RapidSOS co-founder Michael Martin makes a test call at the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center as EOC Director Joe Thomas observes.An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the United States each year. Sussex County officials are considering adopting a new technology that would cut down emergency response time when seconds really do count.

Last week, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center hosted a team from RapidSOS to test the company’s new technology, which uses GPS data to help better pinpoint a caller’s location.

“When you call from a landline, you get the billing address for the phone line. But, obviously, the billing address for your cell phone isn’t very helpful, so that is where the infrastructure hasn’t been able to keep pace with the evolving technology,” explained Michael Martin, cofounder of RapidSOS. “This will become one of the first centers in the country to have this embedded in their system.”

Joe Thomas, director of the EOC, said having such technology would be great, especially as eastern Sussex County has a high tourist population in the summer months.

“Those folks are on vacation, so they don’t even know the landmarks, they don’t know the roads. Having this kind of technology to improve our accuracy will improve our serve time,” he said. “We’re taking over 100,000 911 calls a year here, and 80 percent of those are from cell phones. In the summer season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, that number goes up to almost 85 percent, because everybody is here on vacation and everybody’s got a cell phone.”

Martin said the technology was partially built in partnership with the EOC.

“We’re actually a smaller center, compared to New Castle County, which handles over 300,000 911 calls a year. When you’re looking at centers to be a test site, ours is kind of prime, because we get just enough, but we’re not overloaded,” added Thomas. “We have the best of both worlds. We have a tourist population on the east coastline, and then we have rural areas on the western part. It presents a good testbed, if you will.”

Martin agreed that Sussex County was a great testing ground due to its varied population, as well as the County’s dedication to public safety.

“There are about 6,000 911 dispatch centers across the United States managed by 10,000 municipalities. This is one of the best centers in the country. I’ve been in hundreds of public safety answering points… I think you take it for granted and assume this is what a 911 center should look like. It is not at all the case — the level of training, the level of technology here, but also the commitment to do innovative things.

“When we first reached out, there was a real willingness to work with us to build this technology which has been fantastic. It’s been awesome.”

The County has already been proactive in using advanced technologies when it comes to public safety. In 2014, the County launched its Smart911 service, an online service allowing any Sussex County resident the opportunity to create a safety profile for their household. On an individual’s safety profile, one can include specific medical information, such as allergies or a heart condition, as well as cell phone numbers, photos of family members and even family pets.

Last month, the County rolled out PulsePoint Respond, a new high-tech tool designed to alert smartphone owners of cardiac arrest calls near their location, allowing those members of the public to respond and administer CPR immediately, until first-responders arrive.

“I think what this demonstrates is that we are really trying to tap into some of these technology and resources that are out there, that are really cutting edge to augment our operations here, and to make it the most responsive and best center it can be to the public we serve,” said Chip Guy, chief of information for Sussex County.

Martin’s technology can provide accuracy up to about 15 meters, versus the typical 9 meters to 9 kilometers, with the typical range 50 to 150 meters.

“The FCC has estimated that, last year, there were over 10,000 fatalities when callers couldn’t be precisely located and they didn’t know how to properly articulate their location. What this does is it uses the same technology that we use every day for apps — Domino’s Pizza app, Uber, whatever — it uses five different sensors to help pinpoint the location immediately,” he said, noting the technology even garners barometric pressure to estimate what floor the caller is on inside of a building.

Martin’s company also developed the smartphone application RapidSOS Haven, which, at the click of a screen, could call 911 and give emergency responders the caller’s location.

“As an example, we had two individuals — there was some bad weather around the holidays in North Carolina. One set dialed 911 — that took 26 hours, nearly a 100-person manhunt and a thermal helicopter to locate those hikers. The other individual had our application and was found within 20 minutes. So, we’ve seen a number of lives that have been impacted by it.”

The technology could go even further if a user is wearing a smartwatch.

“We’re going to get heart rate. If you’re diabetic and you have a Dexcom sort of system, we’ll be able to track glucose levels,” he explained. “This is a technology that users would subscribe to.”

Martin said that if the County were to adopt the system for the EOC, citizens in Sussex wouldn’t need to download the application, as its use would already be built into the center’s technology.

Thomas said the EOC is mandated by the State of Delaware to have a 911 call dispatched within 72 seconds of an incoming call.

“We’re meeting that standard 80 percent of the time. At the end of the day, that’s kind of the timeframe. We’re looking at getting all the information we need and getting some sort of emergency response dispatch started,” he said. “In most instances, there’s usually a dispatcher still asking questions, and we’ve already dispatched resources to the incident. It’s a team effort.”

County officials are working with their computer-aided dispatch vendor, TriTech, and RapidSOS to figure out what implementing the technology could cost. If it were to be an approved expense, the County would be able to use the technology sometime in the second half of 2017.