Help 112: How EU cooperation saves lives and money
By Gary Machado
The 11th February is European 112 Day, and this is the right time to recall a saying among those in emergency services: “You might know where you are and God might know where you are, but if emergency services don’t know where you are, I hope that you and God are on good terms.”
The European emergency service number 112 has struggled with emergency location accuracy since it was introduced into European law in 1991.
When 112 is dialled in Europe today, emergency services receive the caller’s location, on average, within a two-kilometre radius – an average range of accuracy that makes search and rescue virtually impossible.
There are many reported stories of people who died because they could not be located.
In some member states, this location information is sent by fax to the emergency services.
In Greece, an official report to the European Commission indicates it takes on average 28 minutes and 58 seconds to get this very inaccurate data.
Meanwhile, location services are used every day to order a taxi or a pizza to our front door.
A recent study, produced by Ptolemus as part of the EU-funded Help 112 project, showed that over the next 10 years, 7500 lives and 98 billion euros could be saved if emergency services could locate the incident more accurately.
Solutions are available
On 10 January 2017, Lithuanian emergency services received a call from a seven-year old child whose father was unconscious. The child did as he should, call the European emergency number 112 for help.
If rescuers were using old technology, they would have identified the child’s location within a radius of 14 kilometres, making him impossible to find. But with Advanced Mobile Location (AML) newly installed, rescuers received the location from the child's phone location data within a radius of six meters. The child's father was saved.
AML is the solution. If someone calls 112 – or any other emergency number – AML sends the phone’s location data to the emergency services. For national emergency service organisations, the cost of deployment is between 20,000 to 50,000 euros. It is also easy to implement and open-sourced.
Last year Google enabled AML in all Android phones around the world. Emergency services in the UK, Estonia, Lithuania and Austria have activated the service with the support of mobile network operators and already receive extremely accurate positioning of callers each day. They are already saving more lives.
EU institutions can make a difference
The commission’s contribution to facilitating the deployment of AML has been significant. It funded the Help 112 project which boosted the deployment of AML in Lithuania, as well as in Italy, Austria and the UK.
It is worth noting that AML was invented in the UK and saved a man in Lithuania, thanks to the European Commission. These extraordinary examples of success of European cooperation should be highlighted and promoted.
AML is spreading throughout Europe. As in Lithuania, the AML technology has been enabled by mobile network operators and deployed by emergency services in Estonia, the UK, and Austria. Several other countries, such as Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Finland, Belgium and Slovenia, are now testing it.
The EU institutions also seem to be shifting focus from minor issues, like accessing emergency services from Over The Top applications (OTTs) such as Skype Out – currently accounting for 0.014 percent of the volume of emergency calls - to real problems and solutions, like locating mobile emergency calls - accounting for 75 percent of the total volume of emergency calls in the EU.
In the context of European 112 Day, the European Commission invited member states to look more into AML.
Things are moving in the right direction, but we all need to do our share.
The EU institutions can foster the deployment of AML by ensuring that all smart phones sold in the EU are AML-enabled since about 300 million smart phones are not.
They can also make sure that emergency services and mobile network operators activate the service.
The proposed European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) is therefore a fantastic opportunity for our institutions to show their support.
Gary Machado is the executive director of the European Emergency Number Association - EENA112.