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Cars Alerting 911 of Crashes Nearing Reality

Pilot projects are being planned to test technical standards that would allow vehicles to immediately “tell” 911 call centers when there is a crash.

By Sarah Rich, Government Technology

Pilot projects are being planned to test technical standards that would allow vehicles to immediately “tell” 911 call centers when there is a crash.

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) announced Wednesday, July 18, the technical standards it wants deployed on a national level in the future. The standards would allow vehicles with in-car communication and security systems such as OnStar to directly send automatic crash notifications to a 911 call center.

“So literally the car can tell the 911 center, ‘Hey, I’m a car owned by so and so, I’ve been in a crash and it looks like it’s this severe,’” said Kathy McMahon, an APCO technical services manager.

Currenty, “telematics service providers” like OnStar and Agero don’t send crash notification data directly from the car to 911 call centers, said McMahon. Instead, these companies act as a middleman, reporting a vehicle incident to 911 themselves. The companies are working to deploy the direct notification capability, however, and the technology is emerging.

APCO also wants the data that’s sent to be standardized. Private companies may send a variety of information and use different terminology of language when notifying 911 of an accident. APCO felt it necessary to develop a uniform data template to ensure consistency.

McMahon said, for example, that one provider might notify a 911 call center that a vehicle is the color red, but send the information spelling out the color R-E-D. A second provider might send a crash notification instead abbreviating it as “rd.”

With the new technical standards – called Vehicular Emergency Data Set (VEDS) – descriptions such as vehicle color, make, model and other details coming in to the 911 call centers would be required to be consistent in language.

“VEDS is a visionary document that demonstrates APCO’s commitment to get ahead of deployments in digital technology by identifying only those data elements that are important to multiple responders after a vehicle crash, said APCO President Gregg Riddle, in a statement. “The public safety community encourages the delivery of AACN (advanced automatic crash notification) information, whether it’s communicated verbally or via data, as an opportunity to enhance and accelerate emergency response to a vehicle crash.”

McMahon said uniform data can also help accurately determine the severity of injuries. With that information, first responders could send the right type of help, such as paramedics, to the scene of the accident. That data could then conceivably be sent to a nearby hospital so that trauma staff could be prepared to deal with serious injuries.

The pilots’ dates and locations have not yet been determined. The tests will focus on sending data to the 911 call centers, and then sending that data to hospitals and emergency rooms to identify trauma victims. The intent is to save lives.

McMahon said APCO wants to test the new technical standards before launching them nationwide so that the association could make any needed adjustments.

“We will learn some lessons and say, ‘Hey, this one data thing that we thought was a great idea, and we thought it made sense — well, that didn’t work out,’” McMahon said.

As next-generation 911 systems come to fruition, McMahon said, 911 call centers should be capable of receiving that crash data directly from the involved vehicles. McMahon said APCO hopes that by the time next-gen 911 does roll out, the technical standards will be fully ready for deployment.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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