A Harvard-based startup just launched a Kickstarter that might save your life someday.
It turns out 911, one of the best-known and widely used emergency systems in the country, is, in some ways, deeply flawed. RapidSOS, a team of 15 including people from MIT and Harvard, has developed a product that would upgrade the nation's emergency hotline using your smartphone. An app they've created sends dispatch centers all your necessary rescue information at the push of a button, eliminating the need for long explanations when calling for help. The $60,000 RapidSOS hopes to raise is to build physical, Bluetooth-connectable panic-button wearables, like a ring to alert help subtly in a sexual assault scenario, or a necklace for elderly people who live by themselves.
"The people who work in the dispatch community are heroes in what they do," RapidSOS co-founder Michael Martin told Mic. "The environment is really intense and we've been handicapping them with this dated infrastructure. We can do better from a technological standpoint, and that's what we're focused on doing."
The problem: When you call 911 from a landline, the dispatch computer receives and displays your phone number, the name it's registered to and the address it's coming from. But if you call from a mobile phone, the address is, if anything, that of the nearest cell tower. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 73% of 911 calls come in from cell phones.
If Martin were to call 911 from where he was sitting on the Harvard campus, it wouldn't go to the local 911 dispatch center in Cambridge. It would go to the center in Framingham, Massachusetts, where every other call in the state goes. After describing his situation and location, he'd be transferred to the local Cambridge dispatch, where he'd explain the problem — and the location — again.
"The reality is, if there's any kind of emergency where the caller doesn't know precisely where they're located, it's impossible for 911 to have a dispatchable address," Martin said. "Meaning even today, 911 can't send a car to a specific house."
Additionally, some 911 call centers across the country are using old, sometimes outdated maps, according to an NBC News report. Without proper locating technology and information, dispatchers can't find as many as 60% of 911 wireless callers.