Your Smartphone Could Be An Emergency Crew’s Eyes


A British fire service is developing an app that will let callers send live video of an incident to give emergency staff more information before they arrive on the scene.

West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) wants other services from around the country such as police and ambulance to get involved in the tech behind the app. It’s named 999eye after the emergency phone number in the UK (the equivalent of 911.) WMFS wants to develop the system and share it with other services free of charge. It says the majority of emergency service calls now come from people using a cellphone.

The idea behind the system will be for smartphone users who’ve made an emergency call to use their camera to shoot the scene (in a safe manner of course.) That would give emergency staff a clearer picture of what is going on, allowing them to prepare better while on their way to the incident. In particular it could reduce the need to rely on eyewitnesses having to describe the scope or nature of a problem such as a fire, something that’s often hard to do for people who don’t see fires regularly and thus have few points of comparison.

WMFS says it wants the app to use point-to-point streaming for the video, rather than route it through servers. It says the app should be set up so that anyone with the basic ability to operate their smartphone can operate the app. It won’t require any recording on the phone itself, though the emergency service will record the footage for use in any investigation.

The app will also be configured to transmit location information using a combination of Wi-Fi points, GPS info and cellular tower location. That could reduce problems where a caller is away from home and can’t accurately describe their location.

WMFS is also considering the possibility for using the app to help medical staff talk callers through giving first aid before ambulance staff arrive and be able to check they are following the instructions correctly.

(Hat tip: Us vs Them)