Emergencies happen every day, and when someone’s life is at stake, every minute counts. As some American cities grow rapidly, so does the complexity of their commercial and residential structures. From high-rise apartment buildings to complicated office parks, first responders are continually challenged to get where they need to be, on time and without preventable barriers.
Stephen Gollan, Battalion Chief for the City of Fort Lauderdale, laments this problem as his crew works to keep residents of the booming South Florida city safe. “We were finding that when we pulled up in front of our most densely packed buildings, a lot of times there was security at the building or elevators that weren't secured, and other challenges or roadblocks because they didn't even know that we were arriving.”
Scaling to meet this growth while following conventional emergency response protocols just isn’t an option anymore. “It’s essentially impossible [to scale at the rate we need] without an all-encompassing reimagination of processes and the technologies that support operations,” Gollan said.
It’s not just structural complexity—problems also exist in the incident reporting process. Many nuances that can direct a successful fire or EMS call can’t be adequately addressed during a quick, often chaotic 911 interaction. Unfortunately, this conversation is often where the information available to a first responder begins and ends – leaving an enormous, sometimes dangerous information gap at the time of response.
This begs a few urgent questions: how can fire & EMS agencies use technology to fill in the all-too-important blanks that don’t typically surface during a 911 call, and how can first responders build a direct line of communication with the caller into their pre-existing response workflows?
Building off First Due’s use of Twilio’s cloud-connected software to provide SMS notifications for responders to relay dispatch information at the time of an incident, First Due’s team has embedded Twilio-enabled features into the end-to-end Fire & EMS suite—bridging the information gap between callers and responders to make every interaction better.
For First Due, the mission to improve planning and communication for emergency responders is personal. “First Due was founded in response to the line-of-duty death of a firefighter who fell through the first floor in a residential structure fire,” First Due co-founder and CEO Andreas Huber explained. “In a post-incident analysis, crews discovered the construction of the building’s first floor made it more susceptible to fire, leading to the lethal collapse.” This crew, and thousands of others, didn’t have the information needed to make the most informed decisions possible. This critical gap can lead to a greater potential for disaster for both first responders and the people they’re working to save.
Huber and First Due Co-Founder Rami El-choufani began to consider how incidents like these might be avoidable. “What if we could share key data with crews before they even got on the scene? And, taking it a step further, what if we could give residents the ability to share details only they would know with first responders that could make or break an incident, long before a 911 call ever takes place?”
Using cutting-edge cloud technology, First Due delivered on both these fronts. First, they developed the industry’s only software platform to procedurally provide crucial structural and occupancy details on every structure in a response area. They then began working with Twilio to solve perhaps the biggest missing piece—communication with the ‘boots the ground’ in the form of security personnel, business owners, and residents when en route to their call for help.
With Community Connect, the public-facing portal of the First Due fire & EMS platform, anyone on-site who could help respond to a crisis or prepare for the arrival of first responders are notified as soon as units have been dispatched to their building.
The process is simple: alongside building a profile of structural and occupancy information, a business or organization designates recipients in Community Connect in advance of a crisis. When an emergency does happen, those recipients get a message straight to their mobile device with details on the situation.
“We’re using Twilio Programmable Messaging to send automated text alerts, so the moment various units dispatch on a call, the right people are getting the right information via SMS,” El-choufani said.
This solution can dramatically reduce the time it takes crews to reach someone in crisis. Building staff at offices or apartments can take critical steps like opening gates, calling elevators, or creating a plan to assist the crew in advance of them arriving on the scene.
“In the past, the medic or fire engine would show up to a high-rise residential building with sirens and lights, but they’d still have to get out of the vehicle and talk to security,” Gollan said. “Now the security guard knows they’re coming and why, so they open the gate and they can cruise right in.”
In a simulation run by a local news station, Fort Lauderdale’s fire department found that Community Connect could cut down their emergency response times by an average of five minutes. In many health emergencies, just a few minutes can mean saving a life.
Being involved in the mobile response ecosystem and integrating with dispatch are really complex things, so being able to plug and play through Twilio’s solutions was huge for us.
“This past year has shown us that change in the fire service can happen overnight,” said Gollan. “It’s inevitable. We’re going to have to change. The key is to work with a company like First Due that’s able to make those changes as easy and comfortable as possible.”
According to El-choufani, Twilio’s software is central to the fabric of First Due’s seamless infrastructure: “Being involved in the mobile response ecosystem and integrating with dispatch are really complex things, so being able to plug and play through Twilio’s solutions was huge for us.”
Now, First Due is setting its sights on expanding the ability for Fire & EMS to use more forms of communication to continue filling in the information gap during an incident. “It felt like a natural progression for us,” El-choufani said. “Twilio was great on the messaging side, so it just made sense to see how we could implement other solutions, like video.”
Expanding on resident-responder communication, First Due is utilizing Twilio Programmable Video to expand their Community Connect product to include First Due Live. First Due Live gives 911 callers a link to a video call where emergency services and first responders can get a better look at where they are, how to get to the distressed, and what they might need.
Next-gen approaches to communication aren’t only useful to Fire & EMS during the time of response—First Due also enables fire prevention with the ability to conduct fire inspections of businesses and other commercial spaces over a video call embedded directly in the First Due application.
Creating new workflows and integrating real-time communication through Community Connect will help agencies gain life-saving information at the time of response. Those kinds of cloud-connected, Twilio-powered solutions will continue to innovate crisis response systems, making the public and first responders safer.