CEO Insights

Smartphone APP Revolutionizes Communications

In 1968, “9-1-1” was established as the universal emergency telephone number for use throughout the United States. It was selected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) because its uniqueness met area code and other technical considerations – and because the sequence was easy for the public to remember and dial from a rotary phone.

Today, almost half a century later, most emergency calls do not originate from landline phones. Nationwide, over 250 million calls are made to 911 annually, and 70 percent, or 185 million of those, come from mobile phones. While 911 infrastructure has gone through various refreshes over the decades, it was not built to suit mobile technology.

“Sixty percent of the calls coming from mobile phones have insufficient location information. What this means is that the call did not return a dispatchable address, so 911 does not know where to find you,” explained Michael Martin, CEO of RapidSOS, a company dedicated to the mission of transforming emergency communication.

That statistic may come as a surprise to some, but not to those who have experienced the dangerous implications firsthand, like Martin and his family. Charles, Martin’s father, slipped off the roof of their family home while he was trying to clear off more than a foot of snow that fell during an Indiana winter storm in 2014. He lay in their icy driveway for two hours with a shattered hip and broken wrist, until his wife arrived home. Although he tried to call 911 from his cell phone, the signal was just too weak.

One night two years earlier, Martin found himself in a threatening situation while walking home through his East Harlem neighborhood in New York City — he feared that he was about to be mugged. Though he made it home safely, he didn’t forget the brief feeling of helplessness. His father’s accident later reinforced this feeling and served as the motivation behind the start of RapidSOS and the development of their groundbreaking app called Haven – originally named One-Touch-911.

While smartphone technology does provide navigation, real-time health and medical information, emergency contact phone numbers and other data, the challenge is that currently 911 centers cannot receive the information. Haven bridges that gap.

When Haven is downloaded to a smartphone – and a person in distress taps the app – core information is transmitted to emergency dispatch centers captured from five sensors built into a cellphone, including cell tower triangulation, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi hotspot data, and barometric pressure. Together, these sensors provide an accurate location which is then transmitted along with additional information about the emergency and the person involved.

“Based off your location, we know where we should transmit this information, so we package it in a way that it’s compatible with the correct 911 dispatch center and we drop it into their existing system while we simultaneously connect to you over voice,” said Martin, a Harvard Business graduate. “From the user’s standpoint, 911 is immediately receiving all this information and you are immediately speaking with the dispatcher over the voice channel.”

A dispatch center does not need to add, change, or reconfigure any of their systems to be compatible with Haven. And there is no new equipment needed or new costs associated as the technology works within an agency’s existing Automatic Location Identification (ALI) and Automatic Number Identification (ANI) systems – the databases that sit behind landline phone calls.
“What we do is provide a pipeline from any connected device into any three-digit emergency number globally. The result is they are getting all this new information pulling into their existing system without any new equipment or cost at the dispatch center,” said Martin.

A variety of complex intellectual property is behind the RapidSOS telecommunications and analytics platform developed by Martin and co-founder. Nick Horelik, chief technical officer, is an MIT graduate with a doctorate in nuclear engineering. Together, they spent the last three years leading a large engineering team while working with several other stakeholders.

“The 911 community has helped us every step of the way, teaching us how their systems work and about call flows. They embraced us and taught us how this industry works. We’ve done over 7,500 test calls while working very closely with about 150 dispatch centers across the United States,” said Martin. He added that the FCC has also played an important role in the overall effort to meet the challenges presented in marrying the latest mobile technology with 911’s 50-year-old infrastructure.

“The FCC estimates that over 10,000 fatalities occur annually when people can’t be located in emergencies. In partnership with the 911 community, this is a problem we can really help transform,” Martin emphasized.

Law enforcement, emergency communication professionals, early backers of the app’s Kickstarter campaign, and users who have been testing Haven throughout the U.S. were all part of a soft launch in December of 2015. The app will be offered to the general public in February of 2016. Preregistration for download is available at rapidsos.com.

Currently, RapidSOS is also building technology focusing on predictive analytics, a discipline which uses statistical techniques to predict and preempt emergencies before they happen. Using data from over 100 variables –  including aspects of road conditions, weather, and traffic flow patterns – the company is building predictive models around exactly when and where emergencies occur. Martin and Horelik are talking with major automotive companies to discuss how this technology can enhance vehicle safety.

Haven, as the name suggests, presents a centerpiece for safety and security for the family, according to Martin.

“Americans spent $21 million last year on home security systems, yet 82% of violent crime occurs outside the home,” he said. “With Haven, not only are we bringing in the nearest local first responders, but we are also bringing the family together, keeping everyone alerted around that emergency with key information,” he said.

And Martin added, “This is a product of all the people who have spent hours involved with us in the 911 community helping us understand the challenge and ultimately build this system. It is a community effort to solve a major social challenge like this and I feel so grateful for everyone who has been a part of it.”

For more information on RapidSOS and Haven visit: www.rapidsos.com

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