911 livestreaming gives operator access your iPhone cameras

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A simple technology that enables 911 livestreaming is proving invaluable in letting emergency services see for themselves the nature of an emergency when someone calls them …

When you use your smartphone to make an emergency call, operators can text you a link. When you tap on that, you will grant access to your phone’s cameras, so that they can see the emergency situation for themselves.

This allows emergency services to instantly assess everything from the size of a fire to the severity of a car crash.

The system is already in use in the UK, with the London Fire Brigade saying that it is a game-changer when it comes to knowing what sort of response is required.

For example, if it had been available at the time of the Grenfell fire – a residential tower block fire where faulty refurbishment allowed fire to spread rapidly up the outside of the building, killing 72 people – it would have been immediately clear that every available resource should be despatched. A full-scale response was delayed because the type of fire people were reporting should have been impossible, so they thought descriptions of it were exaggerated.

The severity of the emergency was initially underestimated by controllers, as the design of the tower block should have contained the fire within a single apartment for at least 30 minutes. Talk of fire climbing the building was assumed to be nothing more than flames emerging from a window. Even the first firefighters to see the fire for themselves found it hard to believe what they were witnessing.

But conversely, callers may exaggerate the scale of an emergency. A relatively minor multi-vehicle collision with only minor injuries may be described by panicked witnesses as a major pile-up. This can result in too many resources being sent to the scene, which means fewer response vehicles available for emergencies elsewhere.

Similar trials have been conducted before, but those needed callers to install an app. Requiring nothing more than a texted link dramatically speeds up access to the video feed. Given the value and ease of use, it seems likely to be widely adopted by 911 services worldwide.

See the system in action in a London Fire Brigade training exercise below (999 is the UK equivalent of 911).

Apple recently shared real stories of 911 calls made on the Apple Watch.

Photo: Daniel Tausis/Unsplash. Editing by Michael Bower.

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