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New app to aid 911 operators

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

UNT professor to present app software at conference for feedback

In 2008, University of North Texas professor Ram Dantu sat down with a group of researchers from universities like Texas A&M and Columbia to begin looking at 911 protocol and how it could be improved.

Dantu and the researchers released that operators struggle to retrieve even basic information from an emergency scene — callers regularly can’t answer routine questions like “is the person breathing” or “is the person alert.”

In the age of smartphones, the group began to develop technology to transmit vital information to 911 operators through a smartphone using a new software system, which Dantu is now presenting at a six-day conference for emergency operators to provide feedback.

“With the advent of new technology, such as smartphones and different sensors, we should be able to get all the vital information to the 911 operators so that they can actually dispatch resources within a 60-second time frame; that is the objective of this project,” Dantu said in an online presentation for the National Science Foundation.

With the software, a person can place the phone on a victim’s torso and the emergency operator can retrieve the victim’s heart rate, blood pressure and breaths per minute. There is also a CPR monitor, which shows the compression depth, allowing an operator to coach a caller on CPR. The application will also offer CPR guidance if the operator is unable to do so.

If there is a larger accident or crime scene, the software also allows for the operator to control the zoom and lighting of a camera so they can virtually assess the situation.

“We thought we should transform this for the next generation,” Dantu said.

Co-principal investigator on the project, Henning Schulzrinne of Columbia University and Chief Technical Officer at the Federal Communications Commission, worked to develop the GPS application and text-to-speech option in the software.

In the NSF online presentation, Schulzrinne explained that on land lines, 911 operators are given an exact location but this isn’t available on smartphones. Now that roughly 70 percent of emergency calls are placed from cell phones, this app will allow for a more accurate GPS location.

Additionally the software will allow for people to text 911, a portion Schulzrinne also developed. Users can text emergency information to 911, which the software will convert into speech for the 911 operator and vise-versa.

“What has changed as we all know, certainly if we have teenagers, people don’t talk anymore. They text,” he said. “We can now see the progression of the text to 911 into actual practice, so mainly cell users will have the ability to text 911 in cases when voice is unavailable or otherwise unsuitable.”

He explained the feature will be particularly helpful for users with speech or hearing disabilities, or in situations where a user might be hiding, like a shooting or incident of domestic violence.

While the technology has not yet been released, Dantu is presenting the software this week at the 2013 National Emergency Number Association Conference, and will get feedback from the emergency operators.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.