next-generation 911

New Jersey town brings real-time multimedia to 911 calls

The Township of Lakewood, N.J., has upgraded its 911 emergency system with software that supports real-time multimedia communication between mobile callers and public safety answering points.

The solution, called iLoc8, was created by Avaya.  According to Mark Fletcher, Avaya’s chief architect for worldwide public safety solutions, iLoc8 uses HTML5 and WebRTC to connect citizens and dispatchers through a mobile web browser without the need of a special app. (WebRTC is an open source suite of APIs that allow real-time communications between mobile applications, web browswers and Internet of Things devices.)

The software addresses two major weaknesses within most 911 systems: location accuracy and situational awareness.

According to Fletcher, location information provided by smartphones is simply not accurate enough for emergency situations. “From a 911 perspective, cellular location is horrifically inaccurate, and every week there are incidents in the news that talk about location challenges with 911 cellular devices,” he said.

Additionally, responders armed with details about the nature and severity of an incident before they arrive on the scene have the kind of improved situational awareness that can speed response times and enhance outcomes.

When a citizen calls or texts 911 from a mobile device, Lakewood dispatchers receive information that the call is originating from a cellular network. iLoc8 then allows the dispatcher to send an SMS message to the device with a web link. With the click of a button, the browser-to-browser data connection is established between the mobile device and the 911 center, which allows the mobile user and the dispatcher to share multimedia information in real time.

From the browser window, dispatchers can see a Google Map location of the caller, along with the default language of the caller’s operating system and the phone’s remaining battery power, which will alert them if they need a translator or need to keep communications brief to conserve power.

The dispatcher can push images and videos to the caller’s phone. A diagram or video describing how to do the Heimlich maneuver or perform CPR is often more effective than spoken instructions. Likewise, mobile users at a tanker accident can take a photo of the chemical symbol on the back of the truck and send it to a dispatcher for interpretation.

The service can be used with Android devices because they support WebRTC, according to Fletcher. Apple does not support WebRTC yet.

“Pictures and video can tell the story like nothing else, and putting that information in the hands of the first responders provides that situational awareness all the way around,” Fletcher said.

“We’re taking common technology that's utilized today in commercial applications, and we’re applying that to the public safety use case. We’re making tremendous advances by doing that,” said Fletcher.

The iLoc8 web service was implemented into Lakewood’s public safety data network. Because the Lakewood police department’s data center already runs applications on virtual machines, there was no extra hardware to install. The pilot program and software itself are in final stages of deployment and will be fully installed and operational in Lakewood this summer.

Lakewood will be the first town in the country to have this kind of 911 system. “This will be, from what I have seen, the very first deployment of next-generation 911 services,” said Fletcher.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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