Emergencies Situations are Rarely Static – so nor Should Emergency Comms be

Author, Darren Chalmers-Stevens, Group Chief Operating Officer at CriticalArc

When was the last time you walked around with a handful of loose change in your pocket, just in case you need to make a phone call?

Anyone under the age of 30 will be mystified by that question. But for anyone older, to make a call in a public place we had to stand in a glass box and feed coins into a slot. It seems incredible now, but using payphones was a part of daily life that we just accepted. Smartphones took over in less than a decade, for obvious reasons. They offer much greater convenience, massively superior functionality, and lower infrastructure costs. Public phones were clunky in comparison.

And today, many of those same disadvantages still apply to blue emergency phones or fixed emergency comms devices.

So it’s strange that some organizations are still spending precious funds on them – including universities, hospitals, and corporate campuses. They are expensive to install and maintain; they need on-site servicing to keep them working properly; and even when working they are not as effective. In most emergency situations you are unlikely to find yourself right next to one of these static, fixed-location call points.

If you are in trouble or in danger, or if you are trying to help someone else – in a medical emergency, for example – will you even remember that blue phone you’ve walked past every day?

Will you know exactly where it is, and how long will it take you to reach it? Will you trust that it will be working when you get there – or even be sure how to use it? For most people, the answer to all those questions will be no. And for technology-enabled personnel – staff, students, clinicians, etc –  there’s no question, the reflex action if they want help will be to reach for their smartphone.

The emergency call solution we now deliver, via the SafeZone app, is so much more effective.

It’s not just a question of immediate availability allowing easier and faster communications – the ‘panic button in your pocket’ now also has far greater functionality. Today, our technology enables the most rapid and appropriate action by emergency responders because it provides full context with every call. For example, SafeZone shows dispatch officers the exact, pinpoint the location of the individual needing help – be that on campus or off campus, and even in a remote location globally in the case of individuals working or on placement overseas. In multi-floor buildings where indoor positioning is used, locations are shown right down to individual floors and room levels. Security responders will also see exactly who the person asking for help is. In an emergency, it helps to know someone’s name, and whether that person’s first language is English.

And the platform can be configured to indicate whether that individual has any pre-existing vulnerabilities – anything from known medical conditions or mental health vulnerabilities, to threats made by former partners. This level of customization, tailored to the evolving risk profile of every user, is transforming the quality of support that organizations now provide for their people.

The effectiveness of response is also being transformed because police and security control teams can see the locations of their officers in real-time, and use this intelligence to coordinate their actions. Over the last decade emergency comms technology has taken a huge leap forward.

Today, blue phone fixed call points are becoming increasingly rare. It won’t be long before they seem as old-fashioned and ineffective as coin-operated public telephone boxes.

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