It was the world’s first emergency telephone service. But while technology has moved on since the U.K. launched 999 emergency calls in 1937 – and saw the world follow its lead – the service hasn’t evolved quite so quickly. Now a technology startup already providing assistance with 400,000 emergencies a day in North America wants to put that right.
RapidSOS takes the view that the more information the emergency services have when someone makes a call, the better their response – and the eventual outcome – is going to be. But 999 calls are voice only and operators are largely dependent on the ability of the person making the call to communicate, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.
“If you suffer an emergency, you have to find your phone, place the call, explain your emergency and tell the operator where you are; none of that is necessarily easy,” says Jessica Reed, head of strategy and global partnerships at RapidSOS. “There is all sorts of data that would give responders an opportunity to look after you much more effectively.”
That’s where RapidSOS comes in. The U.S. startup has signed partnership agreements with third parties including phone providers and connected device manufacturers. The personal data on each of these devices – from basic medical details to real-time location details – is potentially invaluable to the emergency services. So when someone calls for help, RapidSOS’s portal provides a link to this data, giving responders a far more detailed picture of the circumstances and situation of the person in need of assistance.
The idea has gained traction in the U.S. at breakneck speed, with RapidSOS’s platform now in use in more than 4,800 emergency communications centres covering 92% of the population. The portal is integrated with more than 350 million connected devices which transmit real-time location, health and medical information, connected building and alarm data, and more in an emergency.
Now RapidSOS is launching in the U.K. and expects to announce its first partnerships with British emergency control centres within weeks. “Our platform is built to get data into public safety control rooms whatever their technology,” say Reed of the company’s ability to connect with the U.K.’s emergency infrastructure.
She is also keen to point out that people’s data remains secure and private, which will be vital given the very sensitive nature of much of this information. RapidSOS acts only as a bridge from caller to emergency service, and its agreements with device manufacturers stipulate that data will only be transmitted in the event of an emergency situation. “We never store any personal data,” Reed explains.
The potential for the technology is exciting. In the U.S., for example, RapidSOS’s technology can even be used to place emergency calls in the first place – where a wearable device detects that someone has had a fall and isn’t moving, for example. The idea is to enable a faster and better informed response – which could make the difference between life and death.
Another plus point, from the perspective of the emergency services providers, is that bringing in RapidSOS costs them no money. The company’s business model is predicated on being free to emergency services; instead it makes its money by charging connected device manufacturers a licensing fee for adding its functionality to their equipment.
The U.K. roll-out has partly been made possible by an $85M Series C fund-raising round that RapidSOS is announcing today. The backing comes from the global venture capital and private equity firm Insight Partners and will be used to support further expansion of the company’s platform, with both new partnership agreements and further international launches.
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