NEXES Exercise with the Swedish Emergency Services

On September 20th 2016, Omnitor organised a NEXES walkthrough exercise involving six representatives of the Swedish national emergency service operator (SOS Alarm, a member of the NEXES EUAB) and of the Agency for Participation (MDF), with extensive expertise in the 112 service (112 service coordination, 112 system development and architecture, head of development for the112 medical service, 112 operators and 112 service trainers) and accessibility in communications (accessibility issues at the federal level).

The Exercise addressed three of the NEXES Reference Scenarios – A Deaf Arab Citizen Witnessing an Accident; a Fire and Explosion At A Power Plant; and A French Tourist Lost In The Mountains With Hypoglycaemia -, and aimed to better understand the routines and capabilities in the present Swedish 112 service, its limitations and needs, as well as to collect knowledge and feedback from the SOS Alarm professionals on the NEXES system and the NEXES Citizen App, particularly considering the information exchange and interaction between citizens and emergency services.

Based on the hypothetical emergency situations in the scenarios, SOS Alarm representatives explained the capabilities and limitations of the current 112 service handled by 14 PSAP operators, such as the need to pre-register in order to use the Swedish 112SMS service (requires knowing the Swedish language), the lack of capability to call a number that did not initiated an emergency call, the system’s restrictions on location and use of In Case of Emergency contacts, the ability to relay public alerts incoming from the federal level, the inability to send geographically-targeted messages, the absence of a social media channel, the lack of effective daily collaboration/contact between different national emergency services.

Specifically created for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, the Swedish 112SMS service receives about 300 calls per year, half of which are either hoax calls or citizens checking to see if the service is available. One specific downside of this service is that an actual emergency may require more than 30 SMS exchanges before assistance is dispatched. It is a time-consuming resource that would largely benefit from real-time texting or even video connection. SOS Alarm has agreements in place with interpreter/translator services for voice calls in several languages but to set-up these calls may take more than 15 minutes, too long for emergency cases.

In addition, SOS Alarm declared that their current system hinders the 112 operators’ capability to retrieve location information from calling deaf citizens calling the service. The system only provides location information on registered voice calls and there is no function enabling 112 operators to call back deaf citizens. Consequently, the opportunity to have enhanced location information, associated with emergency calls, namely those initiated by deaf citizens, is considered of high interest. SOS Alarm will be fitted with Advanced Mobile Location (AML) technologies in 2017, but already a shortcoming has been identified: SMS are sent to the user’s home country if the user is abroad since the AML specification does not consider the roaming issue.

Concerning NEXES, the Exercise participants highlighted the interest of emergency services in receiving medical and health data, in having pre-defined emergency messages, in being able to communicate using real-time text, real-time public early warnings and notifications, the identification of emergency SMSs as emergency calls, use of icons and body images to clarify the emergency, defining the injury/pain area, the integration of a social media channel and a direct point of contact with emergency services across Europe.

SOS Alarm representatives consider the opportunity to receive medical data is important to identify situations when the citizen is talking incoherently or making indistinct sounds. Providing information on a possible stroke victim, or a speech problem, a temporary disability, or a medical condition such as diabetes or epilepsy could be of great assistance to prepare adequate and timely emergency response. The capability to include speech-to-text transcription in the system would be desirable. In cases where the caller is not the victim but a bystander, it is important that the medical data retrieved is not from the wrong citizen. The interview techniques should also be adapted to Yes/No questions and also the use of symbols and pre-defined messages should be limited with a clear objective to provide basic information: type of assistance needed (medical, law enforcement, fire-fighting), area of body affected (head, heart, arms, legs), victim status (awake, breathing, unconscious). In this case, if the victim is wearing health devices that transmit data to emergency services, it would be excellent, in SOS Alarm’s perspective.

SOS Alarm also conveyed their expectation that next generation emergency services would improve the cooperation amongst different PSAP services across Europe. As an example, they shared an experience involving a Swedish citizen that was in Spain and suffered an accident. The relatives in Sweden were alerted and contacted the Swedish PSAP to reach their Spanish counterpart and provide assistance. However, it was not possible for the Swedish PSAP to reach the Spanish emergency services and the Swedish citizen in Spain died, without assistance.

On the topic of public alert, Swedish public alerts can either convey warnings or information and SOS Alarm is only the relay entity, since the responsibility rests at the federal level. The channels used are radio and overlay subtitles on television. It is also possible to use SMS and voice call channels but, due to regulatory restrictions associated with privacy concerns, SOS Alarm is not allowed to send SMS messages based on geographic location. The ambition of SOS Alarm is to be authorised and able to define the geographic sector for the distribution of public alerts, including accessing information on citizens entering or leaving the affected area. Also it is highlighted the importance to maintain open communication with citizens, providing updates of the public alert situation. A relevant option is also the possibility to distinguish public alert SMSs from regular SMSs. The opportunity to benefit from social media channels is also welcome to the SOS Alarm representatives, aiming to early detect a potential large-scale emergency situation.

The feedback provided by the SOS Alarm professionals during the Exercise was extremely valuable for the work being conducted on the development of the NEXES App for citizens and of the next generation PSAP systems.

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