Pocket App, the UK’s largest independent app developer, worked in collaboration with the West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) to create a new mobile solution, 999eye, with the intention of using a smartphone to transform the way incident information is communicated to the emergency services.
With 999eye, emergency callers can stream live footage from an incident to the emergency operator, providing real-time information for first responders en-route, tactical level managers, strategic leaders and partner agencies. The end goal for 999eye is to enable emergency operators to determine the most effective response for an emergency, and to ultimately save lives.
West Midlands Fire Service
Pocket App is the UK’s largest independent app developer, designing, developing and distributing award-winning mobile apps. Founded in 2010, Pocket App’s senior executives collectively have over 30 years’ experience in the mobile industry, having worked in partnership to deliver projects for large telcos, as well as a vast array of leading brands and marketing agencies. Pocket App is a recognised specialist multi-platform application provider, designing mobile apps and mobile solutions. For further information please visit www.pocketapp.co.uk of follow us on Twitter @PocketApp.
WMFS was determined to make the West Midlands safer and as such was committed to providing the best possible service in three areas:
• Prevention – stopping people from getting hurt
• Protection – teaching, talking and listening
• Response – getting the right people to the right place at the right time
Pocket App recognised early in the development process that the solution was intended to improve an existing information-gathering process that must always be completed as quickly as possible, and therefore would depend on usability and accessibility to be successful. 999eye was therefore designed to work on any device without being downloaded in advance like a traditional app, as reporting an emergency is a time-sensitive situation that does not allow for users to locate and download mobile software if the app is to be instrumental in mobilising a swift response. Pocket App therefore created a live stream system that operates by a one-use only link, that can be sent via text message directly to the user’s device by the emergency operator and is immediately ready to stream live footage.
In the event that the user’s mobile device is not capable of supporting the live stream link, Pocket App also designed the solution to be capable of sending pictures and videos already recorded on the device to the operator.
The result is a streamlined experience that meets the core objective of improving and providing the best possible service in prevention, protection and response. Ultimately, it will also help to save lives.
The project addresses a real need in emergency service response, in that of the approximately 30 million emergency calls made every year, around 50% are revealed to not be as serious an emergency as described by the caller, and in many cases a larger response than necessary is mobilised by the emergency services as a result. This presents a serious problem, as it allows for the possibility that an emergency being inaccurately described over the phone could divert resources away from a more serious situation where lives may be at risk. By giving the emergency operator a live visual feed of the situation, it allows the professionals to deduce for themselves exactly how serious the emergency is, and not rely almost entirely on the description given over the phone by an emergency caller.
The most innovative aspect of the project is that it makes use of a Smartphone, a device that the majority of people own and keep on their person at all times, and almost all of which that are sold today feature a built-in camera. Almost 60% of calls to the emergency services are made on a mobile phone, and so when a single kind of device is being used to make the majority of calls, creating a system that takes advantage of features specific to that device is a highly innovative way of improving the information-gathering process.
Pocket App recognised during development that the key feature of 999eye had to be instant usability. To be most effective, it had to be designed so that in an emergency situation, anyone could use it without question.
The solution works by sending a text message to the smartphone of the person reporting an incident. By clicking on a link contained within the text message, a one-use-only live video stream is set up, allowing the emergency call operator to see the incident for themselves, and determine how serious it is to ensure that the right level of response is deployed.
Pocket App designed the solution to be simple in its design so that it could be used easily by anybody without any prior training or instruction. The link that the user receives consists of a button that will begin streaming once tapped, requiring a minimal amount of technical operation from the user. The link also transmits a GPS to the emergency operator, showing clearly where the video is being streamed from in the event that a caller is unable to accurately describe where the emergency is.
The user experience of 999eye is therefore defined by the fact that for the first time, it provides the emergency services with visual access to real-time emergency incident information and as a result allows operators to coordinate the most effective response possible. By providing such an effective experience, 999eye has the potential to revolutionise the emergency response process.
999eye’s key target audience is other fire services nationwide, and with the support of Pocket App, WMFS aspires to share this system with all UK emergency services.
999eye was demonstrated at a number of different emergency service events in 2014, in order to introduce the solution to the target users, and demonstrate the benefits it offers. These events included the 999eye Emergency Services Collaboration Event, which provided the opportunity to see how the mobile solution works and take part in multi-agency workshops to cover the issues of ICT, data protection and legislation. This event was attended by 100 guests representing emergency services from all over the UK, showing that the emergency services clearly understand the significance and potential of this innovative new solution.
WMFS has started the BETA testing phase of 999eye and at last count 20 emergency services throughout the country had expressed a keen desire to take part in the next phase of testing, with the intention of adopting it later for their own purposes. Although only in the early stages of its roll-out, the solution has already garnered national interest, with stories appearing in The Telegraph, on ITV News and on BBC Radio.
The significant interest generated has inspired other emergency service organisations to work together on a trial that is currently underway in the West Midlands, with the intention to more widely deploy the solution in the near future.
Early in the development process, Pocket App recognised that the security of 999eye was imperative, primarily because the footage streamed to an emergency operator would be sensitive and often distressing. WMFS wanted to ensure that no footage could accidentally find its way into the hands of members of the public who might be alarmed by it, or be deliberately accessed by individuals with intent to misuse it, and a number of measures were therefore put in place to ensure the privacy of all video data.
Pocket App designed the system so that the video data is encrypted and transmitted on a secure http, with a header authentication built in. This high level of encryption and authentication ensures that footage during a live stream cannot be accessed by anyone other than the emergency caller and operator.
Pocket App also realised that the one-use only nature of 999eye could be used as an additional measure to increase its security. By designing each live stream link to expire after its first use, the system ensures that a stream cannot be manipulated or misused by a hacker after the emergency call has ended.
Finally, all 999eye streams are stored on secure servers within the fire service environment, with high levels of control over access and the use of the video data. This data is in fact stored to government levels of security and protection, demonstrating how seriously WMFS takes the handling of the 999eye data.
This can be any new service or application from a start-up to an industry leader. It’s not just bells and whistles we're after but true innovation, exceeding expectations and filling a void that had previously been open.