This company is harnessing next-gen networks and AI to help first responders work smarter

For RapidSOS, advanced 911 capabilities and public-private data-sharing partnerships have the potential to save lives.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

In the wake of the 2023 Norfolk Southern train derailment that spilled and ignited hazardous chemicals, first responders scrambled to determine which substances were involved and how to best contain the mess.

Now, one company aims to ensure public safety agencies are as well-informed as they can be when the next disaster strikes.

RapidSOS, a self-described intelligent safety platform, currently works with 21,000 public safety agencies across the country to increase the amount of data they receive about incidents to help them respond appropriately, RapidSOS CEO Michael Martin told Tech Brew.

The company announced a rail information-sharing agreement with Norfolk Southern in February—making details about trains’ cargo and whereabouts available to 911 response centers—and last month rolled out a new AI assistant to help first responders organize and prioritize urgent information.

This confluence of emerging technologies will eventually lead to much more intuitive—and immediate—emergency responses, Martin said.

“If you’re in a car accident and you’re in one of the 12.5 million vehicles we support, instead of… 911 literally not even knowing your name or location, now they’re going to know exactly where you’re located, potentially crash severity, how many people are inside. And you can immediately dispatch all the right resources,” he said.

Sharing is caring

The RapidSOS technology builds on next-generation 911 infrastructure, which ensures voice connections are more reliable and adds data-sharing capabilities. However, Martin said, emergency-response centers don’t automatically benefit from the increased amount of information that can flow over these modern networks.

“It usually doesn’t transform [or] solve this data component,” Martin said. “It has the potential to, but you haven’t seen it kind of broadly deployed in that way yet.”

That’s where RapidSOS comes in, pulling and sharing actionable data via a host of partnerships like the Norfolk Southern agreement. It’s integrated into public safety software systems run by companies like Motorola, Raytheon, and Airbus, as well as Apple and Google’s consumer device platforms, he told us.

“Your device now is capable of passing a variety of information to emergency services,” he said, noting that, in addition to location, “you can opt into sharing your emergency profile, your medical ID. You can opt into sharing your emergency contacts.”

Information overload

While this proliferation of data points can provide life-saving information, first responders often need help sorting through the information overload. That’s where RapidSOS sees a role for artificial intelligence.

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On May 21, RapidSOS debuted Harmony, billed as a “copilot” for first responders that can help automate routine interactions and organize various data inputs into a cohesive picture of an event. One common task for AI is answering and helping respond to calls from home security monitoring centers that are triggered when a home alarm goes off, Martin said.

“It is basically the same structured conversation over and over again. This is a professional monitoring center, answering the same sets of questions. And so we can just basically, digitally capture that with Harmony and present that directly,” he said.

Martin noted that AI could also help reach out to addresses that originated a 911 call and then hung up, collecting basic intelligence and ascertaining whether an emergency is underway. In a more extreme scenario, the AI copilot can help 911 operators review and prioritize data as an emergency situation is developing.

In the case of a rail crash, “instead of casting, say, 100 different cars of information, we can now say, ‘Hey, you need to focus on cars 15, 36, and 84, which have these chemicals in them. Here’s specifically how to handle it, and here’s your evacuation guidelines based off of that,’” he said.

Ultimately, Martin said, he hopes the use of AI and data tools will send first responders out into the field feeling more confident and prepared.

“This is something that technology can solve, right? We can immediately put that information into 911,” he said of on-the-ground data. “There’s 700,000 first responders that have our app on their phones now. And so we can usually share all that impact-critical information directly into their hands as well.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.