Situational Awareness Solutions for First Responders

Situational awareness to avoid disastersFirst responders spend their time trying to save human lives and property under the most stressful and dangerous of conditions. The current 911 system, operational since 1968 in the United States, has saved many thousands of lives and structures by immediately connecting the 911 caller to an emergency dispatch office, or PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), where appropriate first responders can be sent to the emergency location. Typically, all the information regarding the emergency is elicited from the 911 operator, as they try and keep the 911 caller calm and focused while telling the operator what exactly the situation is.

Obtaining such information from an understandably panicked and highly-stressed 911 caller is far from ideal, and the only hard information available to the PSAP (also known as an ECC – Emergency Communication Centers) has been the physical address (for landlines) or geographic coordinates (for wireless) of the caller, although at times this information has been approximate since triangulation via cell towers is often used. This information is then used to dispatch fire, police, medical, and/or any other required services to the caller location. The caller identification and location are available for approximately 96% of the U.S. population via the Enhanced 911 system, or E911, which was adopted in the early 1970’s.

E911 has been the industry standard for half a century, but clearly technology has advanced to the point where another system is needed; a system that allows for all available information to be rapidly and seamlessly integrated into the 911 system – particularly low-latency, real-time streaming video, direct from the scene of the emergency. This new paradigm is encapsulated in NG911, or Next Generation 9-1-1.

Next Generation 911 is an initiative being led in the U.S. by the Department of Transportation since the early 2000’s, when the association working to improve 911 services, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA – “The 9-1-1 Association”) identified the need to upgrade the 911 infrastructure to fully utilize modern wireless technology, particularly IP-based phone and data services. The goal continues to be to allow 911 callers and the PSAP (911 dispatchers) to share voice, data, images, videos, and other digital data quickly and efficiently across the 911 system, in order to better manage emergencies, dispatch the right resources immediately, and better serve the public during all types of emergencies.

Low-Latency Live Video Streaming for Situational Awareness

One of the most important paradigm shifts the NG911 program presents is the ability to stream live video straight from the emergency site to the PSAP, and the ability of the PSAP to seamlessly and efficiently share this video, in real time, with the appropriate personnel and/or agencies.

The term “situational awareness” refers to the PSAP and first responders having as complete a picture as possible of the entire emergency situation. A single, stressed-out, panicky 911 caller hopefully can provide some accurate, critical information, but a live video of the situation is an incredibly valuable asset, as 911 dispatchers and first responders can see for themselves the nature of the emergency as it develops in real time. This allows them to better manage the emergency as it unfolds, dispatch the appropriate personnel with the appropriate equipment, and provide for better safety for the first responders as well as a better outcome for any affected victims.

And while live streaming video certainly improves the overall outcomes for virtually all emergency situations, we need to define what we mean by “live streaming video”. Nominally this refers to video that is “near real time” since there is no such thing as instantaneous live streaming – although we can get pretty close. The term “low-latency” may be a bit qualitative, but the fact remains that even a delay of a few seconds can be absolutely critical in many emergency situations. Some of the emergency scenarios where seconds really do matter include:

  • Wildfires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, other natural disasters
  • Ambulance with critical-care patient (stroke, heart failure, gunshot wound, others)
  • Armed robbery
  • Home Invasion
  • Domestic abuse
  • Hostage situations
  • School shootings
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Riots or crowd control and maintenance

Situational Awareness Solutions Vendors

Upgrading, or augmenting, the current 911 system into a fully IP-capable ecosystem is already well underway for many first responder communities, thanks to the successful (and ongoing) collaboration between tech companies, public safety organizations, and government agencies. Currently, there are many types of solutions available in order to help first responders better do their jobs by utilizing various aspects of the NG911 systems currently being used.

Vendors in the emergency response space and be classified as technology vendors that provide a specific function (as a software, hardware, or service) that integrates into a complete end-to-end solution. Some platform vendors leverage their partnerships with these technology vendors to bring together a full end-to-end solution. Yes, some other vendors focus on a specific emergency response use case and provide the associated solutions.

Here are a few of the more notable players in this space, with a little more information about their products.

RapidSOS

RapidSOS provides an “emergency response data platform that delivers critical, real-time data to 911 and first responders to empower smarter and faster emergency response. In an emergency, critical data from devices, sensors, or profiles is integrated with the RapidSOS platform and then shared immediately with public safety.”

RapidSOS claims they are currently used in over 5,000 public safety agencies, covering over 300 million people in the U.S., and managing over 150 million emergencies annually, making them one of the largest companies providing enhanced 911 coverage. Their single, centralized platform securely sends contextual emergency data, including precise location, medical profile, and real-time sensor data to public agencies worldwide.

They have also developed their platform together with the public safety sector, ensuring their solution seamlessly fits into existing public safety workflows.

Their product is called RapidSOS Connect and provides a data, voice, and monitoring solution that connects companies to 911. No additional hardware is required, and the solution relies on easy to integrate APIs to implement.

They also partner with hundreds of companies that they certify as “RapidSOS Ready” to indicate that the company has partnered with RapidSOS and are using their technology.

Unleash live

“Unleash live is an A.I. video analytics enterprise solution provider. We take vision from any camera and combine it with computer vision to deliver actionable data in real-time so that your organization has immediate insights to drive down costs, improve productivity, increase accuracy, and improve safety.”

Unleash live has a much broader footprint than just focusing on public safety. Their software solutions provide advanced video analytics that support live streaming and video analysis for large-scale physical infrastructure (power lines and grids), remote inspections, cities and transport, and public safety.  

Unleash live supports a wide range of cameras and allows you to integrate and manage multiple feeds from IP/CCTV, drones, body cams, and mobile or robotic cameras.

Their cloud-based solution can be implemented in under a minute using your own hardware where you can stream to the Unleash live cloud and/or tap into an existing stream using RTMP or RTSP protocols.

Their main products include monthly services for live streaming or modeling and GIS, based on your number of devices linked into their cloud, the number of live streaming channels available, the number of hours per month of live streaming as well as total storage requirements.

 

VIDIZMO

VIDIZMO provides “Enterprise Video Content Management” solutions including live streaming, video-on-demand, and digital evidence management.

VIDIZMO “provides on-premises, cloud & hybrid enterprise video platform, portal, digital asset, digital evidence, & streaming media solutions. The solutions allow organizations to store, process, manage, protect content with individual user & group access permissions, and distribute to the private or public audience securely.”

911eye

911eye provides “Situational Awareness for Public Safety Telecommunicators (PSTs).”

They do this in a much more direct way than many of the other companies in this space, who tend to provide a more complete solution for the real-time management of digital data during emergencies. 911eye works by sending an SMS text or email to the smartphone of the caller. By clicking on the URL link in the message, a secure ‘one-time use’ live video stream is enabled allowing the PST to see the incident in real time and act accordingly. The caller’s GPS location is also provided.

It should be noted that device compatibility could be a major issue if the caller is calling from a non-compatible device, older smartphone, etc. Also, bandwidth and cellular signal strength at the caller’s location are absolutely critical for this solution to be effective. Low bandwidth and/or signal strength can result in downgrading the live video to still images, or having no live feed at all.

While the direct offering of 911eye is more limited than many other solutions, they have the advantage of being very simple to implement, and are now “RapidSOS Ready”. This means that PSTs now have the ability to access 911eye live video streaming from within the RapidSOS portal, ensuring seamless data flow and more efficient emergency responses.

Carbyne

Carbyne claims to be the “world’s only cloud native solution that unifies the flow of emergency life-saving information (Voice & Data) into one unified platform.”

This statement seems to be a bit overstated, as many other companies in this space, including several we’ve already looked at, also use a cloud-native platform to seamlessly integrate with existing call centers, so that new hardware is usually not required. However, Carbyne remains a major player with regards to situational awareness during emergencies. And they do have an impressive worldwide cloud presence, as their solution leverages Cisco’s communication technologies at over 1,000 multi-location call centers around the world.

Carbyne also has a demonstrated and successful track record, boasting 400 million people covered worldwide, serving over 70 international government agencies, 155 million location sessions per year, 1 million video minutes to call centers per year, and 700 thousand data sessions per day.

Their major public safety product is c-Live Universe, which they claim can transform any 911 call center or other PSAP into a feature-rich NG911 environment. This can be done remotely, in just a few seconds and allows for advanced caller location capabilities, live video to 911 via a patented system, and verified and secure instant chat and conferencing.

Motorola Solutions – Watch Commander Live

Motorola Solutions provides a broad spectrum of advanced capabilities, software and hardware, to support law enforcement, fire management, and other emergency services. Among their many offerings, they do provide for NG911 Emergency Call Center Management, which, as usual, provides for immediate, highly accurate caller location and ID, as well as general streamlining and management of voice, data, and video to facilitate emergency call handling.

One of their primary tools for law enforcement is Watch Commander Live, which is an in-car (or motorcycle) live video system using their WatchGuard 4RE in-car cameras. The Watch Commander Live software streams live video from the patrol car or motorcycle to a central command location where multiple live video streams from multiple vehicles can be integrated, analyzed, and shared as appropriate.

You Still Need Connectivity Solution to Get Your Video to the Cloud!

The overhauling of the 911 system into the NG911 system is a major step forward for emergency management. From the brief descriptions above, it is clear that there are many capable companies bringing about the paradigm shift from a voice-only system to a fully IP-based, digital system. The vast majority of these solutions are cloud-based, with many of the solutions implemented by routing your critical digital information to the cloud, and from there, performing various types of digital media management and ensuring the data gets to the right people as quickly as possible.

What this means is that the weakest link in the emergency communication chain is likely at the source of the emergency, where local internet conditions dictate the transmission of critical emergency information, increasingly including live streaming video. While there may not be much that the first responders or the PSAP can do about potential victim’s internet access, there is plenty that can be done to ensure the highest reliability along with the lowest latency real-time video stream within the emergency response ecosystem which certainly includes the first response team headed to the incident location.

The problem arises from relying on a singular cellular connection for critical communications from the emergency scene. Highly reliable, broadband, wired internet access will usually not be immediately available at many locations including any mobile vehicle (patrol car or motorcycle, firetruck, ambulance), most locations during natural disasters, and many other venues included in our list of emergency scenarios listed above, such as school shootings, hostage situations and others.

A great solution is using a technology such as broadband bonding to intelligently aggregate multiple cellular cards from the same or different ISPs resulting in a single high-bandwidth, high-reliability, highly optimized broadband pipe. Several simple to use, plug-and-play devices are available that have the ability to optimize live video streaming by bonding various cellular links into a high-performance connection for the IP video packets. These devices leverage advanced algorithms to reconstruct lost or damaged packets, as the video stream is striped across all available lines.

As an example, the Mushroom Networks Streamer Pro allows for remote crews to simply plug a camera into the Streamer Pro using SDI, S-Video, or composite outputs and stream directly to any video server or CDN, including a cloud-based emergency response portal from any vendor. Simply connect the camera and it’s ready to go without any setup (using pre-installed cellular SIM cards) and the Streamer Pro can start to transmit the highest quality, highest reliability, and lowest latency live video stream available.

Ensuring the highest possible internet connectivity throughout the emergency timeline can also be achieved by using Mushroom Network’s Portabella device, which operates similarly to the Streamer Pro, but is not specifically optimized for video. Instead, this device combines multiple ISP wireless sources into a single, high-bandwidth internet pipe that can be optimized and/or customized for various types of traffic. Nearby devices can connect via Portabella’s built-in WiFi hotspot. Priority traffic can be assigned, and single sessions are maintained even if the originating line fails. This is hugely important in critical emergency situations since many other dual-WAN routers will drop the session if the first line fails, forcing the session to be reestablished, and causing dangerous delays in the data flow. The Portabella device (when peered to a cloud relay) will continue the ongoing session completely uninterrupted.

Using strategically placed broadband bonding or aggregation devices (including first responder vehicles and teams) can greatly complement the overall emergency response network as it transitions to NG911 by providing reliable internet and/or live video streaming from the field.

Rob Stone, Mushroom Networks, Inc. 

Mushroom Networks is the provider of Broadband Bonding appliances that put your networks on auto-pilot. Application flows are intelligently routed around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss. Network problems are solved even before you can notice.

https://www.mushroomnetworks.com

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