Public Safety Technology Leader Urges Consumers to Thoroughly Investigate Any Public Safety Application Before Relying on One to Save Their Life; Dialing ‘9-1-1’ Directly Is Still the Most Effective Way to Reach Public Safety in an Emergency
FRAMINGHAM, Mass., February 23, 2016 – Rave Mobile Safety, creator of innovative data and communication software that public safety agencies trust to help them save lives, today warned the public about the potential dangers of some smartphone applications (apps) promising to enhance safety. During the past year, many apps have become available claiming to enhance 9-1-1 or simply using the 9-1-1 brand in their marketing. There are many strong offerings available, but as with any technology, consumers are encouraged to conduct due diligence and research, especially on technology they plan to rely upon to potentially save their lives in an emergency.
“From my experience leading homeland security and disaster preparedness efforts, I can tell you that it is critical for citizens to easily, and as quickly as possible, connect with 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency,” said Juliette Kayyem, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs and current faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Our country’s 9-1-1 telephone infrastructure remains one of the most reliable pieces of technology available to us and I continue to recommend consumers to always call ‘9-1-1’ directly when they need help.”
Rave reminds consumers that the best way to contact public safety authorities is to call “9-1-1” from their phone’s native dialer. Telephone services remain the most reliable utility in the United States and smartphone software manufactures make calling 9-1-1 very easy, often from the lock screen and without the need for a password. This is the fastest and easiest way to contact emergency services.
“Many new mobile apps are developed with a high degree of creativity and innovation, but may not fully consider the impacts on 9-1-1 and public safety during the development process,” said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association. “We are encouraged by emerging technologies that can help our nation’s 9-1-1 Centers and first responders respond more effectively, but strongly encourage citizens to directly dial 9-1-1 in the case of an emergency. Nothing is more proven or reliable.”
The following are some tips to keep in mind and questions to ask when evaluating a safety app:
- Not all apps call 9-1-1 – Some apps just add extra and inefficient steps to the response process. Consumers should learn if the app they are considering actually dials 9-1-1 directly or does it contact a third-party call center that then processes the request for assistance. The app developer should clearly identify how and if the caller will be connected to 9-1-1. The app’s call center abilities should also be identified (e.g. EMS trained, 9-1-1 center conferencing services provided). Third-party call centers not built with a public safety grade infrastructure will be prone to service interruptions, such as during a natural disaster, meaning the user is never able to reach help. For something as critical as contacting 9-1-1, reliability and uptime are absolutely paramount. As stated above, the phone network is the most reliable utility in the country.
- The app vendor should clearly explain how the app is connecting you to help – The 9-1-1 system is designed for reliability and is regulated. Consumers should find out if the app utilizes a less reliable means of connecting the call to those who can help. Some apps will actually dial a 10-digit number or use other work-arounds instead of using the 9-1-1 network. Those networks are far less reliable than the 9-1-1 system and may route calls around the country before reaching a destination down the street from the caller, with each “hop” in routing adding risk of error or dropped calls.
- Media Reporting – The media has widely reported about the availability of a variety of public safety apps. Most articles feature a handful of offerings, all developed by a person/team of people with good intentions. However, further investigation often reveals that many offerings are still in the testing phase and have undergone little to no actually technical vetting or have not been endorsed by public safety agencies (often meaning the claimed functions of the app may not actually be used by public safety or even be something they are aware of).
- Reliability – It is not uncommon for software bugs to cause apps to crash or stop working suddenly, usually requiring a quick reboot, or, it may require an update at a critical time. This might not be great a concern for apps meant for entertainment purposes, but just cannot happen when it comes to public safety. In many instances, the vendor doesn’t become aware of a bug until a user experiences a problem – when they need help – and complains afterwards. This makes users in actual emergency situations the “beta-testers.” Be sure to review user comments before downloading any app.
- Smartphones are rapidly expanding their capabilities – As an example, the big four carriers have all enabled technology on their networks allowing smartphones to make emergency calls over Wi-Fi networks, which is a major step forward for public safety. Many smartphones’ native dialers can now seamlessly switch from the cellular network to the local Wi-Fi network when coverage is poor and successfully contact 9-1-1. More information about emergency calls made over Wi-Fi can be found here. Additionally, the leading carriers, under pressure from the FCC, are aggressively working to improve indoor location accuracy for emergency callers.
- What are they doing with your information? – Like any company, app vendors have an agenda, including generating revenue, and enhancing public safety may not be their ultimate goal. If the app is free, find out what the vendor is doing to sustain themselves, i.e.,– how will they stay in business? Often, research will reveal they plan to profit by selling user data to a third-party.
“In today’s ‘there’s an app for that’ culture, developers race to bring to market their creations, promising to enhance public safety for every user,” said Tom Axbey, president and CEO of Rave Mobile Safety. “We strongly urge everyone to properly and thoroughly research any public safety app before installing it on their device and counting on it to help them during an emergency situation. If you’re going to bet your life on something, please make sure it is capable of working exactly the way it promises.”
For more information about 9-1-1 and the potential dangers of relying on applications for public safety, please visit https://www.ravemobilesafety.com/reality-public-safety-apps/