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Is Your ECC Receiving Life-Saving Device Location and Data from Smartphones?

Emergency Communication Centers (ECC) have been promised major improvements associated with 911 calls: more accurate location information, location-based call routing, multimedia to the PSAP, and much more. Citizens, reliant on smartphones and other IoT devices, expect their data to be available to public safety agencies in an emergency. However, these promises and expectations are still in the nascent stages of being realized.
In this podcast, John Whitehead and Karin Marquez will discuss how ECC managers, supervisors, and telecommunicators can use Location Information Server and Additional Data Repository data sets in their ECC workflows. Whitehead and Marquez will also talk about the real-world possibilities of leveraging device-based location and computer-aided dispatch data together.

JW: Hi, and thanks for tuning in to Public Safety Now on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, John Whitehead, vice president of sales for U.S. Public Safety at Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure Division. We’ve got a great topic today that we’re going to be talking about. It’s emergency communication centers and how they’ve been promised more accurate location information. We’ve got call routing, multimedia to the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), and all kinds of things. And what it’s come down to is citizens expect that smartphone data, what they get on that phone, is going to be available for public safety agencies. You’ve heard the saying, “If Uber can find me, why can’t 911?”

These promises and expectations are still in the early stages, still being realized at the 911 center. I’ve got a special guest today, and I’m excited about this one. And I know what you’re thinking. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, is it Karin?” It is Karin. It is Karin Marquez, director of Customer Success Management for RapidSOS. She’s going to talk to us a little bit about the ECC managers, supervisors, some telecommunications, and really how they can use the location information server, all of that information and the data coming from the repository and bring that into their day-to-day workflow. Karin, welcome.

KM: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here, John.

JW: Man, it’s going to be a good time. This is a great topic because it’s so relevant to today, right? I mean, everyone in 911 is looking for that, “Where’s that caller?”

KM: They’re so hungry for location and data.

JW: It really is. I know sitting behind the mic myself, it was amazing how many times I took a 911 call, and it was like, “911, what’s your emergency?” And they said, “Oh, something’s happening.” “Okay, where are you located?” “I don’t know.” What do you mean you don’t?” And it’s amazing to me how that has gone from, back in the payphone days, “Well, I don’t know, I’m on the corner of such and such.” Okay. And now it’s cell phone data, where they could literally be anywhere. Finding that person is so important, isn’t it?

KM: Absolutely.

JW: Amazing. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us how you got here.

KM: As you know, my name is Karin Marquez, and I’m actually a former Hexagon customer. Just over a year and a half ago, I left my E-911 center. I was at Westminster, and we had been a customer of Hexagon for about 16 years. Throughout that time, I was one of the lead trainers when we transitioned from our old CAD system to a new CAD. I’ve been familiar with Hexagon for a really long time, and I’m excited to be here with you guys recording as part of RapidSOS now.

JW: It is. Because to be fair, I’ve known you. We’ve known each other for a really long time.

KM: Really long time.

JW: This is kind of like just a conversation amongst us, right? This is going to be great. We’ve had this conversation many times. Let’s jump in. Tell me a little bit about device-based locations, knowing where that smart device is, plus any additional data that comes in. How does that help the citizen?

KM: Absolutely, John. Device-based hybrid location has been the talk of the last year, I guess. But location is kind of so 2018 now, we say. But citizens have expected that 911 can find them for many, many years. And if you think back to the first time we had cell phones, customers or citizens know, call 911 in an emergency. An emergency may not necessarily be what we in the 911 center view as an emergency, but it’s their emergency at the time. And the expectation is, well, you knew where I was when I was on a landline phone or at home or at my work or at a bank or whatever. I’m on a mobile phone; you have to know where I am. And it’s gotten so much worse, I guess, the customer expectation of what 911 should be able to do, with TV shows and movies showing all of these amazing technologies. But it’s just not reality, right?

We are still struggling with cell tower locations, cell tower triangulation, but finally we’re realizing what device-based location can do and the power of the location that’s on your phone, that little blue dot that helps you walk from one location to another in a new city and helps you navigate around even your own home now. I don’t know about you, but when I’m at home, I don’t need my map, but I use it anyway all the time. And for me now it’s more looking at traffic and congestion and such. But communities and our citizens have been needing us to be able to locate them more accurately. We’ve got tourists all across the country. Every city that you go to now has tourist issues. And we’ve got people coming from non-English-speaking countries that need help as well, and so we have to have an equal service level for them and provide the best that we can. Device-based location is going to be really powerful to get that location so we can get the right resources to the callers.

JW: I remember being in the dispatch center, and we actually had policy and procedure for, like, if you got a call from a business or from a hospital, and they had a primary phone system. You’d say, “911,” and you’d all of a sudden get the roll in, and it’d be the master address with the master phone number. And it’s like, “Oh, are you calling from 100 East Main Street?” And they’d be like, “No, I’m back at the cancer center,” or “I’m back in the emergency room.” It’s like, “Oh.” That was always the problem: where within a building or a PBX system was the person? Make sure you ask, make sure you ask.

It’s a whole other world right now because I could be anywhere, right? I could be… I’m from Missouri area. I could be in the backwoods, hunting somewhere, and I’m calling 911. They need to be able to find me if I’m in that field. I don’t have an address. I don’t have a place that I can call you. Tell me, why do you think device location, additional data coming in from these devices, why has it been so tough? Why has it been so difficult to get?

KM: I think for the last 15 to 20 years, we’ve been, number one, afraid of additional data and what that could mean. We’ve been talking about next-gen and photos and video and all of this other stuff, but we really haven’t gotten out of that fear, right? Now we’re starting to see, oh, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. And think back to the time that you were under the headset, right? We knew what supplemental information or data was. We were clearing any database that we could. We were clearing people for wants and warrants. All of that is supplemental to a call, right? What we just need to realize is we’ve already been using supplemental data, and now we’re getting more accurate locations. You know what? We are very capable of making decisions based off better data coming in. Now it’s really powerful because these apps and our devices have so much data behind them.

Our homes are connected. Our cars are connected. We’re connected with our wearables on our wrists. All of this data that can help drive better decisions to get the responders to the right place as quickly as possible, I think is going to be really, really exciting. The FCC had said that tens of thousands of lives are lost every year because of location challenges. And you and I have both probably had many calls where we can think back to, if I only knew where that caller was. And you take that home. And you never forget what the sound was on the other line, right? The power of device-based location isn’t just for that citizen that’s calling in for help and to get them responders as fast as possible, but really to help alleviate the stress and the anxiety of that telecommunicator who has before struggled with getting the right resource to the location as fast as possible.

JW: I would imagine that in every center, there’s at least one dispatcher who’s had the call over the years where the person is in serious trouble, and we don’t know where they are. I’ve read the articles, or I’ve had friends tell me, it’s that lady whose car goes into a waterway. She is literally needing help and can’t tell you where she’s at. And all you can do is listen. All you can do… “Do you see anything?” “I see a tree.” Not helping. “Do you see anything?” “I see water.” Not helping. Being able to pinpoint that.

And then you brought up something interesting. You talked about the cars, the smartwatches. We’re getting into an age where the 911 caller is not going to be a person, right? That’s a whole other thing. You think about that, your mind just explodes. It says, “Wow.” A car could contact me, tell me this is where the vehicle accident is. And with the sensors on the car, here’s what’s going on. The heat’s rising, this is, oh, it may be on fire. There’s all kinds of data. I have to pinpoint where that car is. It’s great, great stuff.

KM: Yep. And today, it takes so long sometimes to answer all the calls coming in about one accident. Maybe it’s a rollover, single car. But numerous callers are coming in. If you can get that data immediately to the 911 center, it’s valuable data. You now have the right resources that can respond to that, with the right tools to, hopefully, help save that life. And we know nobody may save all of them, but we can get the resources to the location as fast as possible.

More data helps us drive better decisions. And we know what resources are needed, what equipment, what tools, what specialty units might be needed. We’ve got to really get outside of the, I’m afraid of this change, and just embrace this change and realize that we’ve been using all this stuff for so long. Dispatchers, I want to see you, or hear you nod your head over the radio when you’re listening to this, but how many of you go into Facebook and start researching things? How many of you go to Google and start looking up data? We are using external databases every day in our 911 centers. Let’s bring this data to you, push the information when it is relevant for that incident, and in a way that the telecommunicator really doesn’t have to hunt and peck and look for it. It’s presented to them in the user interfaces that they’re using every single day.

JW: Don’t be afraid of data, that’s what I’m getting at.

KM: Don’t be afraid of data. It’s okay.

JW: That’s exactly right. I love that. Alright, we’ve talked about the what, we’ve talked about the where, but now I want to talk about the how. How can comm managers and staff start bringing this information in? You’ve got location-information server, you’ve got additional data repositories. How do they get that into the comm center?

KM: The way they’re going to get that into the comm center, we have two ways. The first and quickest method is going to be through RapidSOS portal. This is what used to be known as RapidLite, and it is a web browser. And it’s going to be very powerful for the 911 center to start getting used to accurate location, fast and accurate location, as well as additional data.

Some of our data partners that we’re bringing in, Uber data—a vehicle make, model, color, license plate, caller name, caller phone number—when that emergency, 911 assistance feature is used within the app. We’ve got MedicAlert data—somebody that has a MedicAlert bracelet, that maybe calls 911, we’re able to see that patient information now, which is great, as well as their emergency contact. How many times have we had to look up that emergency contact for somebody who’s coring out, and it takes maybe hours to get their family member to the hospital? Scary stuff.

JW: Gone are the days of, I’ve fallen and I can’t up. Now it’s press the button. I know where you are. I’m coming, Grandma. I’m coming. Right?

KM: MedicAlert is different than the necklace, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. But it’s definitely a start, and we’ve got a lot of medical information that could be coming in to the clearinghouse first, through RapidSOS portal. And then the next one is through integration. We want to make sure that 911 centers are utilizing RapidSOS clearinghouse in every different workflow within that center. If it’s a call taker receiving accurate location through their CPE when they answer that 911 call, the dispatcher needs that data and that location and those consistent updates. If it’s a moving vehicle, the clearinghouse is receiving updates from that device, rapidly. No pun intended, but rapidly. Within seconds, you’re seeing and being able to track a live caller that’s on the move.

Through those integrations, then we can start pushing it to the dispatcher, and then, eventually, we’ll be pushing that data out to the first responders as well, so that everyone within that response group, from the call taker to the person on scene, and even out for your records and your logging recorder side, that needs to be pushed out there as well because we have to preserve this information, right? And we don’t store the event. RapidSOS portal is a first way to receive your data, and then let’s look at integrations into your 911 center. And don’t be afraid; we are here to help. We provide training and a lot of customer support. We want our customers to be successful, because every citizen that’s out there calling 911 today is important to us. We want to help people save lives, which I know you guys do as well.

JW: There it is, right? Don’t be afraid of the data. And if you are a little afraid, we’re here to help you.

KM: We’re here to help you, yes.

JW: And I love the integration with the CAD system is so key, right? Let’s don’t go over to a secondary product. I mean, while that’s possible, if I can integrate it and have it right there, all that starts seamlessly flowing into play. And that’s a great thing. How about some customers or real-world examples, because this isn’t the first—this isn’t your first time doing this. I mean, you’ve been doing this now for a while. Anyone bringing this data in? Any real-world examples you can give us?

KM: The exciting thing is that RapidSOS now is in over three thousand 911 centers across the country, which is really powerful. We’re covering about 82% of the United States’ population. We have a solution within every state in the United States, and that is pretty incredible. When we talk about success stories and how our solutions are being used, we get success stories almost every day. It’s really exciting to hear how our customers are utilizing the clearinghouse data. The saves that they have are saves for us too. I’ll talk about a gentleman in Pinellas County, Florida. This was on CBS; it was a great news story. But he was out in a kayak, out in the ocean, and his kayak capsized. And he was kind of tangled in the ropes a little bit. The water was cold, about 53 degrees. And normally, when a 911 call comes in, it’s going to pinpoint around the hotel, the beach area. But this telecommunicator saw him through the RapidSOS clearinghouse location, and they pinpointed him in the water, and they were also able to watch him drift. From the time of the call to the time they had him in that ambulance, because of more accurate location, being able to see the drift, he was in the ambulance within 23 minutes.

JW: Wow. Because they could follow right along.

KM: Because they could follow right along. And it was really incredible. And so for everybody to go and watch that story on YouTube, on our channel as well, it’s really powerful to see how he and the dispatcher connected after that and what it meant to her to be able to save that life, using more accurate location information from the clearinghouse.

JW: That is awesome. That is a really cool way of looking at it, because I remember the days of when you would have to do calculations. How deep’s the water, how fast the flow, and then, oh, he went in here. Let’s calculate, and let’s hope that he’s down there when we get there. What you’re saying is we can follow along. And I think that’s an important point that we didn’t talk about earlier. Not only am I getting that data, but I’m getting accurate data, meaning that if someone calls and says, “There’s someone breaking in my house,” and that’s the last time you talk to that person because they’re hiding under the bed, you’re going to be able to see what area of that house that caller is coming from, correct?

KM: Yes, absolutely. We had another case in Virginia where a gentleman couldn’t breathe, and all he could get out was a few words here and there. He was able to answer yes to the telecommunicator when she asked, “Can we kick the door in?” And it was because of the RapidSOS location that was passed from the device itself to that call center, they were able to knock down the right door because he had said, “Yes, you can knock down my door.” And they were able to find him, and he was coring out at the time. But that is a life saved. Even beyond that, we get 911 abandon calls all the time. People call and hang up. They may be in distress, and they may hang up because they’re in fear of someone else hurting them because they are on a 911 call — and being able to actually locate these folks as well and send responders out to the right address. We have had so many domestic victims that we’ve been a part of that recovery because telecommunicators are using the RapidSOS solutions to look up abandoned callers and send to those locations. And they are saving lives by doing that.

JW: That is good stuff. This is so exciting, especially knowing where we’re at in today’s world, the number of smartphones and devices that are out there. This is really great stuff. I was just talking to one of your customers, and they told me that the first four weeks they had it in, they had four saves. They averaged one a week, where they actually knew where that person was; where prior to this, they would have had no idea. This is a great thing.

KM: I’m getting the chills right now, thinking about it. Because of all the callers that I have had on the line with me over the last 21 years, I just can imagine what’s coming in today and how the RapidSOS clearinghouse is really helping to impact lives, and excited to work with other partners, our industry partners like Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure, to be able to provide these solutions to customers across the country.

JW: Yeah, that is great. And a big thank you to our guest Karin Marquez. It has been a pleasure. Always great talking to you, Karin. To hear additional episodes and learn more, visit us at hxgnspotlight.com. And thanks for tuning in.