Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Public Sector Tech: New tools for the new normal

Cloud platform modernizes 911 system by adding location data, chat and video to emergency calls

Carbyne’s platform can route coronavirus calls to a nurse to help cities respond to non-emergency calls.

Building intelligent cameras for medical emergencies
7:36

Most 911 dispatchers have less information about an emergency call than a hungry customer has about a pizza order, including status and location information. An emergency communications company wants to make those emergency calls more information rich by using cloud technology, automation, and IoT gateways.

Amir Elichai, CEO and founder of Carbyne, said the company's goal is to bring the command and control of emergency call centers into the 21st century by adding location data as well as chat and video capabilities to each call.

Special Feature

Special Report: Public Sector Tech: New tools for the new normal (free PDF)

This ebook, based on a ZDNet / TechRepublic special feature, explores how new technologies like AI, cloud, drones, and 5G are helping government agencies, public organizations, and private companies respond to the events of today and tomorrow.

Read More

Elichai said that because many 911 systems in the US are 45 years old, there is no ability to ingest any information beyond a voice call. Changing this requires redesigning the entire ecosystem from the bottom up.
 
"You have to create a way to control the entire 911 information flow from IoT to infrastructure to command and control," he said.

Carbyne recently worked with the city of New Orleans to add location data to 911 calls to help the city respond to a spike in coronavirus cases.

"It took us about 20 hours from the initial call to deployment, which is very fast in public safety," he said.

Carbyne's c-Live Universe product sits on top of an existing 911 or 311 system. One of the most popular features is adding location data to 911 calls. As a person places a call to one of these systems, c-Live sends a text asking if the person wants to share location data and a video stream. If the person approves the request, the dispatcher gets the information. 

With 911 calls, location is shared automatically but with other calls the person has to give permission to share location data.

Elichai said one challenge to modernizing the 911 call system is the fact that government contracts tend to be long-term, locking a call center in with one vendor.  

"Most organizations are already using an existing provider, but they still want to have location for every call," he said. 

The c-Live platform includes these services:

  • Advanced mobile location (Apple and Google)
  • Location services
  • Instant chat
  • Live video
  • Auto detect
  • Incident conferencing
  • City IoT interface
  • Transcription
  • Unified communications manager
  • Unified contact center

Location information can help call takers route services to an individual in distress. A video connection can help a 911 operator understand what is happening. With COVID-19 cases, this additional information feed could help a dispatcher understand a person's symptoms and suggest what to do next.

Elichai acknowledged that adding video to a system that is currently voice only could increase dispatcher stress levels. Carbyne has a partnership with a mental health expert to provide support and training for call takers who may be seeing video images of accidents as well as talking with callers reporting the incident.

Carbyne's platform also can help cities route coronavirus calls to nurses instead of 911 dispatchers.

"This reduces the load on 911 centers, and gives citizens the best help from experts," he said. "Our solution can eliminate the need for risk of exposure for healthcare workers and responders."

Elichai also said that Carbyne's platform makes it easy for states to share resources as states hit peak infection rates at different times. "You can sit with your computer in Massachusetts or New Jersey and give the full service and help from home to other states," he said.

In the recent survey of 500 911 professionals, the National Emergency Number Association found that 64% of respondents reported that their call center had no capability for remote operations, only 30% reported they can work remotely from a separate public-safety or government facility, and only 7% indicated the ability to do so from home.

Carbyne is using the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines around privacy to guide its work with call centers. 

This law divides the owners of data into two groups: processors and controllers. A processor transmits data from point A to point B. The controller owns the data. Carbyne doesn't save any data or install any software on end user devices, and information from emergency calls is governed by laws in local jurisdictions.

"Carbyne has no access to the system or the data, we are just the processor," he said.

Carbyne wants to bring 911 to smart speakers, augment call dispatch with automation/AI 

The next phase of Carbyne's work will be advanced speech-to-text capability.

Elichai said that he wants to bring more automation into the process of responding to 911 calls to increase efficiency and ease the burden on dispatchers

"The current amount of actions that a dispatcher needs to do in real time is insane," he said. "By adding artificial intelligence and other technology, you can connect them into one platform, minimize human mistakes, and shorten the time to respond."

Elichai said the company is still building this functionality and expects the work to stay in development for some time.

Federal and state governments are taking steps to modernize the 911 system and improving the infrastructure first by expanding broadband capability. The next step is to improve the technology used in the call centers.

Many states are implementing Next Generation 911 and connecting their emergency response systems with other states. In June 2019, the National 911 Program released the 'NG911 Roadmap: Pathways Toward Nationwide Interconnection of 911 Services' to identify what needs to be accomplished at the national level to build a nationwide NG911 system of systems.

Elichai's other vision for the future is using the expanding universe of smart home devices to improve emergency response. He imagines connecting 911 systems to Google Home devices, Amazon Alexas, and closed-circuit TVs to get the most accurate information in real time. 

"Our system was built to connect any IoT device into our platform," he said. "As an example, say you have an Alexa that can recognize unusual noise or heat, maybe this device can alert the fire department about this problem."

Elichai said it's still early days for this idea and one of the challenges will be finding early adopters willing to test it.

COVID-19 puts 911 upgrades on hold and amps up emergency dispatcher stress

The aforementioned National Emergency Number Association survey also found that 911 calls spiked shortly after COVID-19 stay-at-home orders went into effect but dropped after that.

The survey of people in 46 US states and territories found that half of respondents said that non-essential maintenance programs or upgrade schedules had been affected by the pandemic. Among respondents reporting a pause in non-essential technology maintenance activities, most said they were suspending vendor upgrades and maintenance.

The recent survey also found that call takers are feeling higher stress levels due to the coronavirus epidemic. Almost 75% of respondents said they are providing new services to address employee wellness and stress during COVID-19, including counseling and peer support, providing meals to on-duty staff, and arranging visits from support animals.

carbyne-dashboard.jpg

Carbyne's platform adds location data to 911 calls so that emergency dispatchers can respond to requests more quickly and efficiently.

Image: Carbyne