Next Generation 999

Next Gen 999 Apps and sophisticated comms solutions continue to grow in the mainstream but the blue lights can still only deal with voice-only 999 calls even though multimedia IP-based technology could bring a plethora of benefits. Isn’t it time to move forward?

Research suggests that the mobile app market could be worth as much as $27 billion by the end of this year, and in April this year APCO launched an online forum for apps dedicated to public safety and emergency response. British APCO is aiming to take a significant role in ensuring public safety apps in the UK are safe and fit for purpose.

What is ‘NG999’?

In essence, it’s a journey, with short, medium and long term stops – but with no final destination!

In 1937, the UK was the first country in the world to introduce a 3-digit single emergency number. Others followed suit, with the adoption of 911 in the USA & Canada, 000 in Australia, 112 in mainland Europe and more recently, 999 in Singapore.

Since its inception, the single emergency number has remained ‘voice-centric’, whilst the consumer world has grown exponentially around it to exploit data, video and social media technology.

In the second decade of the 21st Century, emergency services world-wide struggle to obtain GPS or Wi-Fi location data. The best that can be provided if a caller can’t identify their location, is an approximate cell site area. Sharing data or video during an emergency call is pretty much non-existent; incredulous when you look at the day-to-day use of Skype, WEBEX, FaceTime and many other multi-media tools!

This sounds like ‘gloom and doom’! The good news is that the world is beginning to change, and people are waking up to the fact that the 999 (et al) service needs to step up to meet current and future consumer and technology needs.

So – what’s happening in the UK and where does British APCO fit in?

Alongside the 999 team at British Telecom, we have been lobbying for the development of the 999 service in the UK. The barriers have been significant – no-one really ‘owns’ 999. Technically it sits within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), but it’s not their day-to-day business, and the fit feels wrong. There is no funding for development of the service, in spite of the fact that merely delivering a GPS location would save the taxpayer millions of pounds in the long run. So, bit by bit, BT and British APCO have been digesting small chunks of the ‘elephant’.

Advanced Mobile Location (AML)

AML is the brainchild of the 999 policy manager at BT. There are a number of handset manufacturers and mobile network operators (MNOs) that have engaged in making technical changes to enable the Wi-Fi/ GPS location to be passed to BT when a 999 call is made. Prior to this most handsets were designed to shut down all ‘non-essential’ apps during an emergency call in order to conserve battery life. This included the location function. That’s been reversed and by 2016 all newer versions of android handsets and UK MNOs will be delivering the advanced mobile location data to BT. Without doubt, this will become a life-saving tool, as well as reducing time/cost for the emergency services. British APCO believes that the handset providers who have yet to be prepared to engage, need to step up their game and start to do so.

999 App Certification Scheme

British APCO sits on the UK 999 Liaison Committee. This group is chaired by DCMS and has representatives from the emergency services, their four respective government departments, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, British Telecom and the mobile network operators.

In 2013 a presentation was made to the committee about a potentially life-saving smartphone app. The company had been working with the North East Ambulance Service to develop the app (‘Real Rider’) and both parties were happy that this should become available across the UK – and linked to the 999 service.

British APCO took the lead and has since been developing the 999 App Certification Scheme. This will allow app developers to present their app to a team with relevant operational and technical expertise. If the app is deemed to have the potential to save life, the developer(s) will be put in touch with a suitable ‘host’ agency (Fire, Ambulance, Police, Coastguard – or a combination). The agency will work (on behalf of their single service) to make the app suitable for operational needs. This may include such issues as the information required, or the level of false activations deemed acceptable. Once both host and developer are satisfied with the performance of the app, they will return to the 999 App Certification Panel for approval. Next stages will be technical testing with BT, briefing of the rest of the UK emergency service(s) for when the app goes live – and final sign off by the UK 999 Liaison Committee. A British APCO certificate will be awarded and the app will be publicly endorsed for its suitability to be integrated with the 999 service.

When a certified app activates in the ‘real world’, relevant data will delivered (via EISEC) directly into the Command and Control software of the appropriate emergency service. An annual re-certification process will ensure that the app continues to perform to its required standard.

If you would like to submit an app for consideration by the 999 App Certification Panel and possible entry into the process, please email and with full details.

(In due course the process document and application form will be placed here and be downloadable).

999 Eye

Developed by the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service, this takes NG999 another step. The ability to deploy the right resources to a scene can be greatly enhanced by contextual information such as video streaming.Where a smart phone is used to make a 999 call, the 999 Eye allows the emergency call handler to send a text to the caller. Whilst the voice call remains open, the caller simply clicks on a ‘URL’ delivered within the text. This opens up the camera allowing pictures to be streamed onto a web page that the 999 call handler can access. Whilst this is a one-way communication and is not directly linked to 999, it’s an exciting development in the NG999 journey!

Next step – two-way multi-media communication delivered through the 999 service!

Further details will be placed here soon.