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Solving a Problem as Old as Time: Calling for Help

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Since there have been human beings, there have been emergencies: falling in tar pits, crashing wagons, you name it. As long as there have been emergencies, there have been calls for help — and our lives depend on how fast someone can respond.

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Volcanoes: the original fire drill.
 
 
Us humans have tried everything. Ancient Romans used carrier pigeons to aid the military thousands of years ago, telegrams took their turn in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, then of course there’s the cell phone. We’ve spent centuries trying to find more efficient ways to communicate, and as our species has raced through history, technology has tried to catch up. Finally, we landed at a pretty good solution: 911.
 
 
 
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Thank goodness he knew morse code.
 
 
We all know the drill: in an emergency, just grab your phone, dial 911, and help is on the way. 911 saves millions of lives each year, and the public knows that they can rely on its heroic dispatchers to make the judgement calls that will save their lives. And 911 isn’t the only emergency calling system we’re used to: college students walk right by the “blue light” system every day, and know if they hit that button, campus safety and police will come to their aid as soon as possible.
 
These systems have worked tremendously well for a long time — the first 911 call was made in 1968! That’s 8 years before the invention of the VHS tape, 16 years before the Macintosh personal computer, and 23 years before the internet was available to the public. Also happening in 1968? Apollo 8 — the first manned mission to orbit the moon. We bet you hadn’t thought about calling 911 as a throwback before.
 
 
 
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Ah, the era of paper maps & payphones!
 
 
Thankfully most people don’t have to call 911 very often, but the next time you do, you might notice that you can’t take advantage of all of the technology we have today. To get help, you have to speak to a dispatcher on the phone and describe the full context of your situation, including where you’re located, what’s happened, what condition you’re in, and who else may be involved. If you’re using a blue light system on a campus, your emergency needs to happen in close proximity to a blue light station for it to help you. Many campuses are finding these systems outdated, reliant on decades old technology, and expensive to implement and maintain.
 
Calling 911 is a perfect solution to many emergencies, but not all of them. 240 million people dial 911 each year, and 70% of those calls come from cell phones. The problem here is that if a phone is out of reach or a situation requires more discretion, we need something more. We’re comfortable with our smartphones, but have you ever stopped to think about how many steps there are to making a call on one? First of all, you have to locate it — which, if you’re anything like the average cell phone user, means digging around in your purse or pocket for a while. Or even worse, you’ve been in a car accident and it’s flown into the back seat or onto the floor where you can’t reach it. Then comes the unlocking: a thumbprint from a steady, dry hand; a complex pattern across the screen; a passcode — all unfortunate, time-sucking obstacles in a true emergency.
 
 
 
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(Especially if your emergency happens to be zombies)
 
 
Once you accomplish that, all that’s left to do is open your calling app, scroll through your contacts (or even worse, type in their name), and call your friend hoping they’ll pick up. If you try to save time with voice-to-text, you’ll notice that that technology is still imperfect and half the time your phone won’t understand what you’re saying. Even if you’re calling 911, you still have to dial and wait for an answer — on a busy night, hold times in heavily populated areas can be as long as 7 minutes. Almost seems like a step back from calling 911 from a landline, doesn’t it?
 
 
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Good thing you’ve been working on your hand-eye coordination!
 
 
Since 1968, it’s easy to see that technology has leapt forward at an impressive pace, and that it has the potential to keep us safer than ever. Not only do we hold some of the world’s most powerful computers in our pockets, but culture and infrastructure have had to advance quickly to keep up. 911 itself is now attempting to take advantage of new technology with NextGen 911: a system that will accept text, photos, and video. To do it right will require years of work with local, state, and county governments, and technology continues to advance while we wait.
 
Michigan, however, is taking a more preventative approach: an app that lets you create a “ Smart 911” profile, so that dispatchers can see vital information (for example, your apartment number, or that you’re in a wheelchair) and know what kind of help to send. With today’s technology, you can send a huge amount of information to your friends in an instant — and in places like Michigan, people are enabling emergency services to take advantage of that.
 
 
 
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Pesky zombie. Good thing this guy’s got Wearsafe.
 
 
Alternatively, Peer-to-Peer Safety systems have been designed to take advantage of the most popular use of mobile technology today: social sharing. What does Peer-to-Peer Safety mean? It means that the people who know you best can get you the best help. Wearsafe, a leader in the Peer-to-Peer Safety category, harnesses the power of technology to make sure that calling for help is truly instant by reducing the endless steps of using a cell phone to just one: pressing a button.
 
 
 
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A tiny button saves the day!
 
 
As soon as the user presses the button on their Wearsafe enabled device (whether that’s a wearable Tag, a phone, or a smartwatch), their network of friends & family takes it from there. Wearsafe technology does three things: opens a group chat with the user’s network, sends them a real-time GPS location, and turns on streaming audio from the sender’s phone. Those friends, coworkers, or family members can then see and hear the context of the situation and coordinate the best response.
 
 
 
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Gotta love your local network member.
 
 
Sometimes, it might be something as simple as getting a friend out of a bad date, but if it’s a true emergency, that network can call emergency responders right away, and provide them with all of the information they need to send help. The beauty of Peer-to-Peer Safety systems like Wearsafe is that they provide an instantaneous way for the person in trouble to call for help, then let them focus on their situation until help arrives.
 
 
 
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Someone give that guy a high-five.
 
 
The future of emergency calling will be one that takes advantage of all the best technology our world has to offer. In 1968, that was audio cassettes and handheld calculators. In 2017, we live in a world where cars drive themselves, your home can be controlled with your voice, and virtual reality is, well, a reality. Isn’t it time for an update?
 
Being in an emergency situation is difficult enough, and doesn’t need to be made harder by making calling for help an overly complicated or drawn out process. For centuries it’s been difficult, and it’s time to make calling for help easy.
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Jason Biondo

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