RapidSOS — The Emergency App that’s Saving Lives

WRITTEN BY: Emily Howell

Since we were little, we’ve all been taught to dial 9-1-1. In the U.S., those three numbers are drilled into us from preschool, when we’re told they could save our life or the life of a loved one. The problem is that we rely on the same 9-1-1 infrastructure from when the system was originally established in the 1960s. This system worked great for landlines, but is dangerously outdated for today’s usage.

A few years ago, Michael Martin’s father was clearing snow off his home in rural Indiana. He slipped and fell, crashing to the ground. For nearly two hours, he lay in the frozen driveway with a broken wrist and shattered hip, unable to reach 9-1-1 from his cell phone. It wasn’t until Michael’s mother came home from work and was able to dial 9-1-1 from the home’s landline phone that an ambulance was called. This didn’t seem right to Michael, a graduate student in Boston at the time. It was while he was in Boston, that Michael met Nick Horelik who also had experienced problems with the U.S. emergency communication infrastructure. As an undergrad at Tufts University, Nick volunteered at the Tufts’ support hotline where he learned how difficult it was to locate individuals in need. Because of these experiences, Michael and Nick founded RapidSOS, and with a team of engineers and entrepreneurs from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, they solved the problem.

These days, over 70% of 9-1-1 calls are made from cell phones, but when you call 9-1-1 from a cell phone, 9-1-1 dispatchers receive little or no accurate location data. This means that you have to rely on verbally telling the dispatcher where you are – which can be difficult in some emergencies when it’s dangerous or difficult to speak, or when you don’t know exactly where you are (in a new city, in a crowded stadium or mall, and countless other places we find ourselves in our day-to-day lives!). It’s not even possible to send a text message to 9-1-1 in most parts of the U.S. The FCC estimates that over 10,000 lives are lost each year when 9-1-1 calls can’t be located. This is especially worrisome for individuals who may need emergency services more often than the average person, or for those who know how quickly a medical situation can go from OK to dangerous.

RapidSOS is transforming emergency communications. Our smartphone app, Haven, sends important data straight to 9-1-1, including:

  • GPS location
  • Demographic info (name, age, etc.)
  • Text messages
  • Even relevant medical info

With a traditional 9-1-1 call, you are connected to 9-1-1 through a simple voice connection. When you trigger an alert with Haven, you’re connected to the nearest 9-1-1 dispatch center, and a voice connection and data pipeline are established. This means data can be sent right from your smartphone to 9-1-1 personnel.

When you first set up the app, you input any information that may be important during an emergency, such as medical devices you use, medications you take, and anything else that could be used to help you. This information is securely stored in the app and only used if you have an emergency. If and when you trigger an alert, your emergency contacts are notified afterwards, so that your loved ones aren’t the last to find out if you have an emergency. Also included in the app is the RapidSOS Family Connect feature. Family Connect lets you check in with loved ones, share your real-time location (without the hassle of answering phone calls or texts), and even call 9-1-1 on behalf of someone else if they need emergency help.

RapidSOS is giving 9-1-1 a much needed update for the 21st century. No one should have to worry about how they’ll reach help in an emergency, especially not people with T1D who are juggling enough as is. We want to give you peace of mind that you can reach the right help, whenever you need it and wherever you are.

Get RapidSOS for free for a year HERE.

Emily Howell

Emily Howell is a Marketing Fellow with RapidSOS. She is passionate about improving access to healthcare in the U.S. and around the world and believes technology has a huge role to play. She lives in Philadelphia.