VP of Public Safety Operations Talks RapidSOS

By Christopher Vondracek

When Tom Guthrie served as Vice President of Smart Public Safety Solutions with Motorola Solutions, he first became aware of a small innovator in advanced emergency technology.

“I was excited by what these guys were doing because it seemed like the technology was moving quickly in other sectors, but not yet in public safety.”

That company was RapidSOS. Now, in 2018, Guthrie has joined RapidSOS as VP of Public Safety Operations, and he’s happy to be with the company, who has now only continued to gain strength as a reliable partner for first responders around the country. The company provides rich supplemental emergency data through a secure platform, the NG911 Clearinghouse.Public safety agencies can access data at no cost through an integration with their existing software or a web-based tool called RapidLite.

“We already provide data to PSAPs covering 180 million people, and next year we’re aiming to cover close to the full population,” said Guthrie.

A common problem for many first responders is that in 2018,many 911 calls are still not able to be located. According to RapidSOS, the company’s system helps push rich data into the hands of 911 first responders to help make a caller’s location more attainable. It uses data from the location technology seen in most smartphones.

RapidSOS solves a problem unique to the emergency communications network: it can lag behind technology. While Uber and your local pizza delivery joint can pinpoint the location of a caller based on the phone,public safety answering points (PSAPs) still ask the carrier.

Guthrie, who works out of Colorado, employs an analogy for the west.

“Let’s say a family from Alexandria, Virginia flies out to Estes Park for vacation and gets into a troubling situation with an elk and wonders and needs to call 911 but wonders, ‘Where am I?’”

A dispatcher may not know how to pinpoint the individual.But RapidSOS—in milliseconds—takes the call, sends out a bid asking,essentially, “do you have any information about this caller?”, and quickly RapidSOS can provide to that dispatcher everything from location to the caller’s identification and even further discriminating information, such as whether that caller is in an Uber.

According to information from the Harvard Data Center,RapidSOS is estimated to cut 2 to 10 percent off mortality rates due to faster response times. Healthcare costs are also reduced by between 7 and 20 percent.

“The whole NG 911 (next generation) was defined in the age of telephony,” said Guthrie.“They haven’t yet looked at broadband data like we do.”

RapidSOS is still growing. Guthrie says they are “well capitalized” and “ready to go to the next step,” to include building out the operational scale and expanding, potentially someday, internationally. RapidSOS serves PSAP’s in 35 states. Overall, 2,000 PSAP’s receive data from RapidSOS.

One commitment for RapidSOS was to field a team competent in the public safety arena. “A big part of our team are former directors of PSAPs,” Guthrie said.“They all have operational personas. They know exactly how the public is in public safety.”

As more public safety agencies, especially police forces, adopt the plan, they hope to increase information content and flow to officers.

“The golden piece is location,” said Guthrie.“What’s the path? If you’ve got someone on foot or in a car, there’s a lot of stuff about capabilities for health and situational information from connected car, smart home, and wearable devices. If I knew vital signs, this health information could go into the Clearinghouse.”

Information could include things like the name (“Tom”), heartbeat data, and a history of heart conditions.

Finally, the piece of home security also blends in with normal day-to-day mobility.

“You’ve got your favorite device, you’ve flown to DC, and there’s an alert on your phone that something’s going on in Rapid City, South Dakota. If I call 911, it’ll know not to respond in DC but my location in Rapid City to respond to my house.”

Guthrie said RapidSOS has the potential to provide a variety of supplemental emergency data types, the goal not being to reinvent the PSAP wheel but, in Guthrie’s words,“plug into a system we already use.”

And a system he was an early supporter of that he’s now happy to join.

Christopher Vondracek is a freelance journalist living in Washington D.C., most recently with Courthouse News.

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