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New technology could save lives

We’ve grown weary of incessant television commercials bragging about the benefits of the latest technology and how much better our lives would be if we would throw out the device we bought last week and invest in the newest version.

And we really get tired of people boasting about how many “apps” they have, as if building an arsenal of the things will qualify them for some sort of merit badge.

Sure, some new advances are interesting and fun, but how many actually have made our lives that much better?

That’s why we were interested in learning about the work of University of North Texas professor Ram Dantu. In 2008, 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 determined that 911 operators often struggle to retrieve even basic information from an emergency scene. The group began to develop technology to transmit vital information to 911 operators through a smartphone using a new software system, which Dantu just presented 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.

If you’ve ever had to dial 911, you probably have a pretty good idea of why operators have a tough time translating some calls. An emergency situation is not conducive to clear thinking or concise communication.

But with the new technology developed by this group, 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 allows the operator to control the zoom and lighting of a camera so the operator can virtually assess the situation.

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 cellphones, the app allows for a more accurate GPS location.

The software also allows people to text 911, a portion Schulzrinne developed. The software will convert emergency texts into speech for the 911 operator and vice versa.

That feature should be particularly helpful for users with speech or hearing disabilities, or in situations where a user might be hiding.

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.

In our view, the technology shows great promise, and we look forward to learning more as development continues.

We may not have all the latest apps, but we recognize that the world has changed significantly, and should we need help, we’d like the person who calls 911 to have technology like this available.