UK’s first NextGen 999 mobile app gets Government approval

Government’s 999 Liaison Committee approves certification of Real Rider app, which sends accurate location information to 999 handlers in the event of a rider crashing; opens up new ways to send enriched information to emergency services without recourse to voice

UK’s first NextGen 999 mobile app gets Government approval

The first civilian produced 999/112 mobile device application was approved for certification by the Government’s 999 Liaison Committee (chaired by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) last week at the British APCO event in Telford (22-23 March 2016). The Real Rider app (pictured) sends an alert from a motorcyclist smartphone direct to the emergency services in the event of a crash.

British APCO has been championing the idea of Next Generation 999 (NG999) apps for several years now, in an effort to harness new technology enabled by smartphones to send enriched information to the emergency services. B-APCO is now an approved NG999 app certification body.

The approval marks the end to a very long process for the developers behind the Real Rider motorcyclist application and kickstarts a new capability that links members of the public directly to the emergency services via their smartphones, but without recourse to voice services.

The idea behind NG999 apps is to enable smart devices to send an alert directly to the emergency services with location details (and a wealth of other information, including medical details, depending on the app) in the event of motorcyclist crashing in an isolated spot and not being able to call 999, for example.

However, announcing the certification of the Real Rider app, Andy Rooke, vice president, B-APCO, who is championing NG999 mobile apps on behalf of the organisation, explained why it was necessary for these kinds of apps to go through an exacting and thorough certification process.

He stressed it is important that apps are developed in conjunction with the emergency services, so that they not only suit the users they are originally designed for, but also fit in with the response processes used by the emergency services.

What is not wanted are ‘rogue’ apps that have not been certified as fit for purpose by the emergency services. For this reason the certification process does take some time.

So, if anyone comes up with an idea for an application, how is it judged if it is suitable? All four emergency services (fire, police, ambulance and coastguard) are involved, along with BT as the UK’s PSAP (public service answering point) operator, which handles all 999 calls and data. Technical experts also need to be involved to check whether the app will do what it is supposed to do at the right time.

Certification Process 1
The initial assessment looks at outcomes: what is it intended to do, will the app make a difference, and what is its potential for use in emergency situations? The app may then be approved to go forward, sent back for further development, or deemed not suitable as an emergency app.

If the app is thought suitable it goes forward into operational development and testing. But a partner agency is required from one of the emergency services to act as a ‘sponsor’ and tester at this point. This is essential to not only provide credibility, but also to ensure the app is fine tuned to deliver exactly what the particular emergency service agency needs.

Certification Process 2
At this point the final presentation of the app is made to the certification panel and robust testing needs to be demonstrated to ensure the app meets the requirements of the emergency service(s). The app developers also need to demonstrate the data transfer process is correct and reliable to ensure the enriched information contained in the data arrives in the right format and in the right place at the right time.

Certification Process 3
In the final stage of certification, the BT connection and testing takes place to get the app suitable for the 999 system. BT and the emergency service sponsor agency then approve the app when they are happy with it. Rooke warned that this is not an easy process and takes time.

Once this stage is complete, B-APCO takes the app to the 999 Liaison Committee and invites them to approve the app, which is then formally accredited into the 999 system if they do. Rooke warned that the app has to be re-accredited every year to ensure it is still doing what it is meant to do and hasn’t been affected by changes to smartphone operating systems, for example.

‘NextGen 999 apps provide real enhanced information to the emergency services, but it is not a quick process and it has to be so,’ concluded Rooke.

Real Rider crash detection app
At the launch event, Andrew Richardson, co-founder and CCO of Real Rider, explained the genesis of the Real Rider app, which is called REALsafe Crash Detection. It was inspired by the fact that motorcyclists account for 19% of deaths and serious injuries on UK roads and they wanted to develop an app to help reduce this.

‘We began talking to BT in 2011 about the REALsafe app,’ recalled Richardson. ‘Most people carry a smartphone nowadays and in most cases the phone’s GPS system gets your location down to a few meters – even 1m in open countryside. The idea is you use the sensors on your phone to detect whether you’ve had a crash. It measures the accelerometer to see if there has been an impact – it waits 10 seconds – and then combines with GPS to create a geofence around the rider.

‘If it detects you moving it stands down. If it does not it vibrates and generates a message and says you have two minutes to respond: if you don’t respond, it sends your location and medical details to the emergency services. The 999 handler will call back, but if there is no response an ambulance is dispatched to the rider’s last known location.’

Richardson added: ‘It took a lot of work to understand how accurate the GPS is and then set the thresholds. We did end-to-end tests with BT and North East Ambulance Service and we were able to get the reported location accurate to one meter.’

The new REALsafe app has the latest crash detection technology. But on the fun side, Richardson said it also enables additional services such as: Ride Connected, which records routes, photos and videos; Ride Inspired - to discover new routes and things of interest along the way; and Ride Prepared, which stores all the information relating to a bike in one place.

One Scream app for protection of women
Another NG999 app currently in development is One Scream, which is designed to provide reassurance, prevention and protection against domestic violence, mugging and rapes.

One Scream director Lane Clements McLean said: ‘One Scream is a hands-free app for teenage girls. Attacks happen very fast and there is no time to do anything but scream. How it works is that the One Scream app uses audio technology to responds to a panic scream.

‘The phone itself makes a loud noise and flashes and at the same time makes an automated call to 999 with the victim’s identification, location, mobile number and a recording of the scream. It also opens a line to the 999 services.’

The app has been in development since June 2015 and is currently in Alpha testing. In October 2015 it was tested for Apple iOS and Android in specific environments (often noisy ones to test the apps’ ability to detect the scream): concerts, sports days, planes, trains, etc.

Of the 40 people testing the app, there was only one false alarm and as a result of the testing one new parameter relating to the speed of escalation of the scream has been added.

A Beta test is upcoming with 500 people ranging from 14-year-old girls and students, lone workers, bar tenders, teachers and others who work in noisy environments. The tests will cover false alarms, screams detected, functionality, is it user friendly (i.e. is any part of the app confusing?) with the results being sent for analysis with a professional company.

Clements McLean said the next steps will be to review the data and make adjustments to the app or algorithm if necessary. Further testing will be undertaken if required and then apps for iOS and Android developed. The test results will be sent to British APCO for review. Kent Police is the sponsor agency for the app.

She summed up development so far by saying: ‘We are continuing to working with B-APCO on the app. I would say we underestimated the time it takes to do this, but it has to be watertight. The app must be able to hear and detect the scream.’

ePress app for deaf and hard of hearing
The final part of the NG999 app launch was a presentation from Becca Hume of ePress, an app designed to enable deaf and hard of hearing people to contact 999 services. However, the app could also be used by people in environments which are too noisy for voice calls to be heard, or where the user does not wish to be overheard calling 999 (domestic abuse situations, for example).

There is an emergency services SMS service in existence, but Hume said a poll of 171 deaf people revealed that only 27% of them had registered their phone with the emergency services, which suggests something else is needed.

The ePress app brings up four icons on the phone’s screen representing police, fire, ambulance and coastguard. The user just presses the required service icon and a message will appear to tell them their call has successfully got through to the emergency service.

Users can create a profile with their medical history, which can also be sent with the call to further assist emergency responders. As with the other two apps above, the call sends the user’s exact location from GPS. There is also a type of incident listing, which can also be sent to give the emergency services a better idea of the type of incident they are responding to.

Once the 999 handler has set up the response, confirmation that help is on the way appears on the screen. A further refinement enables the 999 handler to remotely switch on the phones camera, which can then transmit video to the response team.

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