Emergency Response Management – the new approach

The world as we know is becoming unsafe with each passing day. Every now and then the media reports breaking news in the form of rape in ride sharing cab, day long hostage situation in cafe, mindless murder spree in school, lost in wilderness, tsunami’s and cyclones, and what not. Adversaries present themselves unexpectedly and in any form; manmade or wrath of nature. Inspite of all the advancement in technology and emergency response training and management (ERT), people and government agencies all over the world are still struggling to contain and minimize the humongous loss of lives and property. Ironically the tools and technologies to prevent or minimize the loss are to a large extent already available however, what is missing is a standard, central, and uniform approach to implement and manage.
The aim of this article is to try and unlock the problem and propose a detailed roadmap and solution.
The Problem
  • As discussed above adversaries present themselves in many forms and situations. Some of the common ones are listed below starting with manmade,
    • Rape in moving cars, vehicles, and isolated places
    • Hostage situations in buildings, cafes, airplanes, public transport etc
    • Terrorist attacks and bomb blasts in schools, religious places, public places, public transport etc
  • Some of the natural disasters or unintentional accidents resulting in huge loss of life are,
    • Tsunami, Cyclones, Hurricanes, Earthquakes, Volcanic eruptions
    • Car accidents, rail accident, plane crash, shipwreck
    • Lost in wilderness
    • Locked out in a closed space
    • Trapped under debris
    • Animal attacks
The Technology as it stands
  • As of today one in 5 people or around 1.75 billion people in the world own a smartphone and or a smart device. A large proportion of those also have internet access on their devices.
  • Mobile devices and smart gadgets have become an integral part of human accessory which they carry with them almost all the time. It is estimate that around 80% of people have their smartphone with them 22 hours a day.
  • Smartphone features and operating systems have become extremely advanced and support wide array of features such as high resolution cameras, audio recording, temperature and pressure sensors, health sensors, instant communication capabilities, accurate geolocation mapping, etc
  • Cloud storage provides almost infinite data storage and retrieval capabilities and are constantly synched with mobile devices through internet
The Solution as of now
  • By now most of you might have guessed the logical solution to the problem using the existing technology. Many would even jump a step ahead saying there are hundreds, if not thousands, of emergency response / preparedness / management mobile application already in place and in use.
  • Yes, they are present but they are not effective and the solution does not really lie in the mobile apps. If it were, there would have been a handful of extremely good ones identified and installed on maximum user devices and doing a pretty good job at that. We don’t even see stats on how these apps are effective and how many lives they are saving or have saved.
  • The bigger problem is the apps are targeted for only individuals and of no use or help in a mass crises situation such as the ones listed above
  • In many cases we have specialized apps for specific emergency only e.g. personal safety, health crises, accident etc
  • The app market is diverse and not many people use the same app during emergency thus having a unified emergency response solution improbable
  • Most of these apps are not integrated with the authorized emergency response teams but with close family and friends to report data to
The Solution as it should be
  • Here I will be talking about the roadmap or broad strokes of the solution that I think how it should be. By no means is this a fool proof and all encompassing solution and I would rather leave it to the experts to detail it out. The aim is to get things moving and try and get this idea across to the people who can really make this happen.
  • As mentioned above the solution does not lie in the mobile apps approach but has to be at a much higher level which is the mobile device itself and the operating system (OS) that it runs. The solution needs to be in the form of a standard framework and implemented by all mobile device and the OS makers. The solution should be as standard as a USB technology, or a WiFi or Bluetooth or Sim card that all device and OS makers comply with and implement it uniformly and consistently.
  • Mobile devices as discussed above have two great advantages; one it is omnipresent and second it is an extremely powerful device
  • Lets us imaging as part of the standard the device and OS makers agree to implement the following,
    • Easily accessible emergency intimation feature in the mobile handsets e.g. Click home screen three times, or click power off button 5 times etc
    • Enable emergency information sharing instantly once activated. For safety reasons the device should not indicate that the feature is turned on. It could only be turned off through a passcode protected settings tab.
    • Once the emergency intimation feature is turned on, the device should start capturing and transmitting the following information depending on the features available on the mobile device and as supported by the OS –
      • Photos – periodic photo captures using both front and back camera. Photos should not be stored or displayed in photo gallery but stored in cache. The device should not make any click sound or use flash while capturing the photos. Photos to be captured using low resolution and size with decent quality.
      • Audio recording – periodic audio recording of short duration intervals. Similar rules applied as that for photo capture.
      • Video recording –  periodic video recording of short duration intervals. Similar rules applied as that for photo capture.
      • GPS location – periodic capture of current GPS location co-ordinates. Similar rules applied as that for photo capture.
      • Motion information – periodic capture of motion co-ordinates using available motion sensors. Similar rules applied as that for photo capture.
      • Biometric and Atmospheric information – periodic capture of biometric and atmospheric information such as pulse rate, blood pressure, atmospheric pressure, temperature, orientation using compass etc. Similar rules applied as that for photo capture.
      • Network information – Wi–Fi connection, network connection, range and distance from network points, battery status, etc. The device should automatically go into power saving mode by turning off features that drain battery such as background app refresh, location services etc.
      • Auto dial and messaging – the device should make automatic calls and send SOS messages to 2 or 3 pre-nominated persons. The calls and messages should not appear in history and neither on the display screen. The calls should be short and periodic.
    • Depending on the internet availability all of the above information should be transmitted to a central cloud data storage. The information should be as optimized as possible for efficient and speedy transmission. The information should be stored on mobile cache and transmitted whenever the device find internet access. The information should be transmitted even if the device is switched off or partially damaged (if possible using a back-up battery or something). The information should be encrypted if possible.
    • The information from the cloud should only be accessible to authorized agencies and in the fastest and most efficient manner. This feature will require lot of out of the box thinking to implement and ensure the information is safeguarded.
    • All of the above information should be presented in the most sensible manner through the cloud based system for the authorized agencies and the emergency response teams to make sense of and use it appropriately.
  • As you can imagine if the device were to capture and transmit all of the above information it would be a gold mine for the emergency response team to respond effectively to any form of emergency.
  • The solution is effective in not only personal emergencies but mass crises situations as well if many of the affected people were to use the emergency feature on their own devices simultaneously. A wealth of highly valuable information would get captured and at disposal of the authorities and the emergency response teams. Relief strategies, medical help, police measures, military actions, etc would be so much more effective and timely if all of this information were to be available in real time.
  • If the solution is implemented as part of the device and OS, a very important aspect of safeguarding the person in the midst of an emergency can be managed securely and safely. It is very important for this feature to run as a background process only and not visible on the user device in any form. For this and for most of the features explained above it makes sense only if this is implemented at a mobile device and an OS level itself and not as a standalone app. Owing to the proliferation of mobile devices and the technological advancements, it is now time to introduce the emergency response as an inherent feature of the device and OS.
  • It can easily be implemented if some of the big organizations such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung were to come together and create such a standard. They have already transformed many people’s lives, the economy, way business is done, communication, and many more things through their innovative solutions. They now have the opportunity to contribute to something that matters even more and which is saving human lives. If this solution is rightly implemented and configured it does have the potential to save hundreds and thousands of lives every year. It can also prove as a deterrent for anti social activities knowing everyone is equipped with a powerful emergency protection system.
  • As mentioned above, this is just a roadmap and a solution overview. I am sure there a way too smart people around the world and in these organizations who can detail out a very elegant solution using this roadmap. I hope it happens very very soon!
~ Sandeep Khomne 
Pune, India