Not one hour after the bodies of Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar were found, Eli Beer, the head of Israel’s United Hatzalah, spoke with The Jewish Press about a dire need in the community: getting there faster.
Working with Israeli startup NowForce, United Hatzalah developed an app which saves time while saving lives. Called LifeCompass, the app uses GPS algorithm so that volunteers are sent out by the dispatcher based on their distance from the emergency.
United Hatzalah, a volunteer first responders organization in Israel, created an early version of the app for Nokia phones in 2006, and then adapted it for smart phones. Until recently, the app has been used only by emergency and medical professionals, but three days after the boys were kidnapped, the organization made the app available to civilians.
The need for such an app was underscored by an incident in northern Israel in 2008, as reported on Haaretz’s website at the time. Inbal Segev, 21, called in an emergency when her Haifa apartment caught fire. The operator on the other end thought the call was a prank and accused her of “playing games.” After a few days in a hospital Segev died from her wounds. Six years later, Segev’s father is suing the Magen Dovid Adom emergency service system for the way they dealt with his daughter’s call. He says the operator did not take his daughter seriously when she called and it also took the operator too long to take down Inbal’s location, thus costing her her life.
Similarly, one of the three kidnapped boys called the police and whispered on the phone, “We’ve been abducted! We are being kidnapped.” Again, the police thought the call was one of the many pranks they receive and did not realize the truth until a family member of one of the boys reported him missing.
Before LifeCompass, United Hatzalah used radio technology walkie-talkies to communicate between fellow volunteers and the dispatcher. However, it was hard for the volunteers to hear, and even if an emergency was around the corner, they wouldn’t necessarily know about it. Additionally, if a person was abducted and the police wanted to track him, they would have to follow a lengthy process. First they had to contact a judge to sign an order. After that, the police had to take the order to the phone company to release the tracking information. It was a two-hour process, at which point, it may have been too late.
“A lot of people in Israel would be happy to save lives,” said Cherna Moskowitz, who sponsored the funding of the app with her husband, Irving, in 2006, “but they just don’t know if there is an emergency down the road. There was a need for the correct people to communicate” with each other in the event of an emergency. “It is a unifying and possibly unique thing. I think it saved a lot of lives.”
Indeed, together with United Hatzalah’s famous ambucycles, LifeCompass has brought response time down to three minutes, half of what it used to be, according to the organization.
The app’s new availability to all Israeli citizens means people can easily notify the police in the case of an emergency. Because the app uses GPS technology, the police can track the call; this ensures that the call is legitimate and also allows United Hatzalah to keep tabs on the person in need. The app has an additional feature that allows users the ability to pre-program family members’ numbers into the system so that, when activated in an emergency, the app will send alerts to the family as well as to United Hatzalah.
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