Finland Encourages Use of 1-1-2 Location App
Monday, August 03, 2015 | Comments

Finland’s Emergency Response Centre Administration (ERCA), an agency that provides emergency response center (ERC) services throughout Finland, launched a 1-1-2 app that automatically sends location information to emergency dispatchers and helps improve emergency response. The public-sector agency receives emergency calls from all over the country that fall within the scope of rescue, police, social and health services, as well as other information relating to the safety of people, property and the environment, and forward their content to the appropriate authorities or partners.

The 112 Suomi application launched in late June and has been downloaded nearly 170,000 times, said Marko Nieminen, director of emergency response center services at ERCA. The app has been successfully used more than 1,660 times to make emergency calls.

Nieminen said ERCA has been working to improve its ability to locate emergency callers. Last year, the agency deployed SmartLocator software by XLAB that taps into the positioning capabilities of smartphones to help pinpoint callers, but the software does not produce a location quickly and requires callers to turn on the phone’s Internet connection and activate GPS features.

To further improve positioning capabilities, ERCA worked with Finnish IT company Digia to develop the 112 Suomi application, designed to integrate with ERCA’s systems and be easy for users to download and use. The app uses satellite geolocation technology to pinpoint a user’s location.

“The accuracy of the current emergency geolocation system is hundreds of meters, even kilometers,” said Nieminen. “It is often very hard to locate the exact incident place in forests, lakes or highway areas or in the fells of Lapland. With satellite-based geolocation, the caller may be located within even tens of meters.”

The application is available free from app stores and works with Android and Windows-based devices, iPhones and Jolla phones. Once downloaded, the application prompts the user to enter a phone number. Users can also choose which language they prefer to use.

During an emergency, callers can open the application rather than dialing 1-1-2, and the application will initiate the call and automatically forward location coordinates to the emergency response center. If the caller does not use the application to initiate the call and dials 1-1-2 directly, the application will still generate coordinates that the caller can read to the dispatcher.

ERCA recommends users place the application icon in a visible, easy-to-find location on the phone screen and take time to learn about the features rather than waiting for an emergency situation to open it for the first time. In addition, ERCA encourages users to instruct children and elderly users how to use the application.

Nieminen said the application improves the quality of emergency response center services in several ways:

• It provides a more accurate location than the previous emergency geolocation mechanism used in Finland.
• It automatically delivers the caller’s location, which speeds up response times, and because it is integrated into ERCA’s call-taking and dispatch systems, call processing also is quicker.
• It is useful for children and the elderly, or anyone who may have trouble knowing their location or articulating it to dispatchers. Tourists and visitors to Finland are encouraged to download the app because they may not know or remember the 1-1-2 emergency number in a crisis and may have difficulty reading and pronouncing Finnish place names. The application is available in Finnish, Swedish and English.
• It does not require an Internet connection. The application uses the same form of coordinates as the ERCA systems use. When an Internet connection is unavailable and location information is not automatically delivered, the coordinates can be verified from the application and relayed vocally.
• It reduces unnecessary calls. The application contains contact information for other services that callers may be able to call instead of 1-1-2, such as public service information, the child and youth phone, maritime search-and-rescue services, and the poison information center, said Nieminen. “The objective for offering on-call service numbers for the non-urgent need for assistance is to meet the citizens’ need for information and reduce the number of unnecessary emergency calls,” he said.

The application generated positive feedback in addition to ideas for improvements, said Nieminen. The app already has been updated with new features, including expanding operating system compatibility; improving usability features; adding the ability to check the precision of positioning directly on the application screen; reducing battery consumption by turning off the GPS operation when the application remains open in the background; and worldwide availability to support tourists.

Several other countries have expressed interest in learning about the new application as well as Finland’s 1-1-2 structure. Nieminen said ERCA leaders have been presenting about the application and other public-safety initiatives at workshops and conferences in the United States and Europe. The agency has received interest from Dubai and Australia and has worked with 1-1-2 Georgia, the country’s multiauthority public-safety answering point (PSAP).

Finland won the outstanding national 1-1-2 system award from the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) in 2013, which generated increased interest from other countries in learning about Finland’s 1-1-2 structure, said Nieminen.

Finland has been consolidating its PSAP operations for about 20 years. In the 1990s, the country operated 200 PSAPs but decreased that number to 15 PSAPs following the ERCA renewal between 2000 and 2006. A new renewal started in 2011, reducing the number of PSAPs to six by the end of 2014, said Nieminen.

“Our goal is to make them work as a network using the same database within the next few years and become one virtual PSAP,” said Nieminen.

Finland’s ERCA handles about 3 million live 1-1-2 calls per year and an additional 1 million calls for other functions, such as automatic fire detector testing.

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