How Crowd Sourcing Can Save Lives

Push in Case of FireWhen someone has a heart attack, every second counts. Speed treatment, and you save lives. That’s why the new iPhone app just released by the San Ramon Valley Fire Department is so interesting. The new iPhone app, called Fire Department, acts like a “crowd sourced emergency response” app and it shows a lot of promise for connecting everyday people like you and me with the power to lend a hand – and maybe even be a hero. Its primary purpose, right now at least, is to connect people who know CPR with people who need it – right now. The iPhone is perfect for that.

I’m in Seattle, so the app was less meaningful to me than someone living in, say, San Ramon, California – where it’s already been rolled out by the fire department there. I can already see where they’re going though and am hoping that the Seattle Fire Department takes a look at the service. The app has four categories of service right now:

  • Incidents: a stream of incidents from the fire department’s dispatch. Most of what I saw from looking at the app were medical emergencies, though there was also one vehicle accident. You can look at a live stream, or a log of recent incidents and even see them placed on a map of your area.
  • Radio: this is the audio stream coming from the fire department’s dispatch. It just went off while I was writing this, and I have to say, there’s something cool about hearing the dispatchers voice. It makes everything feel way more real – not just some iPhone app, but hey, this is real life.
  • Photos: these looked mostly like archived photos that San Ramon had on hand for launch. But you can imagine this evolving over time into something tied to real-time incidents.
  • Notifications: this is where the settings are so that you can fine tune things so you’re only notified on “hazardous materials” and “vehicle accidents” but not “structure fires,” for example. It’s here where people qualified in CPR would set the app to notify them when someone nearby needs emergency CPR treatment.

This app still has a ways to go to realize it’s full potential. Right now, it acts more like a glorified dispatch radio, delivered over the iPhone. That’s cool, but where it gets really exciting is when communication starts flowing both ways.

You have to be careful when you’re talking about emergency incidents though. Cool by itself doesn’t cut it. Forcing people to call 911 to report an incident helps reduce false and accidental reports and helps responders have better information before heading to the scene. Still, there’s still room to turn an app like this into more of a two-way information flow. With some good process design, it wouldn’t be hard to build a set of screens to capture more structured data about an incident – and do it pretty quickly without a whole bunch of typing (not something you want to be doing in an emergency). In the case of fires, it might also be helpful to have a snapshot taken from an iPhone to quickly convey the status of the fire in ways that would just take too long or be less accurate than someone trying to explain it over the phone in words.

I love this app – not so much for what it is today, but for what it says about where this kind of civic engagement can go in the future. When it comes to handling serious fires or health situations, I want the real deal. I want a firefighter or EMT. But even these guys can use some help – some extra eyes and ears, and maybe even some extra hands now and then.

Fire Department App – PSA from Fire Department on Vimeo.

Image modified from original by Eric Heath. Thanks Eric.

One comment

  1. Hi Gideon, check out the follow free smartphone apps :

    Android – ShowNearby AED
    iPhone – AED Nearby

    Maybe you might find an AED in Seattle.