There is no recorded national average for emergency service response times, but most cities report theirs being between five and 10 minutes. That sounds fast -- and it is -- but even a minute or two can make the difference between life and death in some emergencies.
In a new partnership, DIY home security company SimpliSafe and emergency response data platform RapidSOS aim to chisel away at those precious few minutes. Using RapidSOS's data sharing apparatus, SimpliSafe will provide specific information -- derived from their home security systems and sensors, along with their user profiles -- to 911 responders, sometimes before an emergency call is even made.
The goal is more ambitious than simply cutting down response times, though, according to SimpliSafe CEO Christian Cerda.
"The traditional home security company monitoring center… is ripe for innovation and reinvention," he told me Wednesday, ahead of the announcement. He envisions a near future where this sort of data sharing becomes the industry norm, making the whole rapid response ecosystem more efficient.
With over 2000 emergency call centers across the country already online, using SimpliSafe's data, these two companies together are taking the first first step toward that future.
A service 'ripe for innovation'
Anyone who's researched or bought home security systems is well aware of the countless selling points various companies use to differentiate themselves from opposing brands. Are they DIY or professionally installed? Do the video doorbells have package detection? Can the door sensors trigger smart lights?
Increasingly, home security systems actually spin a few plates at once: They alert customers and authorities in case of break-ins, but also check for gas and water leaks, offer two-way talk through security cameras and offer all sorts of options for home automation -- in fact, smart home devices are arguably the biggest evolution the home security market has seen in decades.
That could change, if Cerda's goals come to fruition.
RapidSOS has been around for about eight years, but it's seen its most explosive growth since 2018, when it started to come with both Apple and Android phones. In a world in which phones are unmoored from the old countertop cradles of yore, where a phone with any area code could be in any location in the country, emergency services faced increasing problems with locating users.
When I spoke to RapidSOS CEO Michael Martin, he held up an hourglass to illustrate the problem. One end of the hourglass, he said, represented all of the connected technology we encounter in the world -- wearables, phones, cars, etc. -- and the other represented computerized systems emergency services can use to reach people in need.
"Between the two," said Martin, "is analog, copper phone line. And it is that bottleneck that is a massive challenge for driving the fastest, most effective response possible."
RapidSOS has attempted to widen that information bottleneck by delivering data, such as precise user location, to emergency responders -- and in fact, the company now works with some 4,900 emergency response centers, which cover about 94% of the United States population.
The newly minted partnership doesn't just bring RapidSOS's data delivery apparatus to SimpliSafe, though. The security company is helping expand the type of data RapidSOS can share when communicating with 911 centers. That means operators could not only receive SimpliSafe customer names and addresses, but also more specific data on which sensors triggered the alarm, and perhaps even snippets of security camera footage pertaining to the emergency call.
Better, faster, stronger
This early in the partnership, it's hard to measure exactly how much faster RapidSOS will make emergency responses to SimpliSafe alarms -- but there's reason to believe the improvements will be significant.
"We'll be doing a variety of analyses and we'll have a robust data set on this," said Martin. "[But anecdotally,] we heard from one of our 911 agencies that they were receiving [SimpliSafe customer] information up to 2 or 3 minutes before the phone call arrived."
Martin said that amount of time saved is unusually high, but shows the high-end potential of the technology.
The second way RapidSOS's technology widens the communication bottleneck is by speeding up the processing of caller information. Traditionally, location and other information must be communicated to operators in a verbal, question-answer triage process -- which can lead to problems with transcription (think: a misspelled street name), or simply delays understanding and acting on the information provided.
I spoke to Michelle Potts, the communications manager at the Chandler, Arizona, police department, who has worked in the 911 call center for 25 years. Chandler PD has been piloting the SimpliSafe-RapidSOS integration for about six weeks.
"Where I think this is going to [save time]," said Potts, "is in that call triage process… What we've seen is, when the information comes in, we'll start that call for [emergency] service."
All of that can happen before the 911 call even comes in. Once it does, said Potts, operators only have to verify the information they've already received in the initial report and already delivered to first responders.
Finally, Martin and Potts both spoke about the time-saving effects of service integration.
"In a 911 center," said Potts "[operators] have oftentimes five, six, seven different computer monitors in front of them."
Each of these monitors gives different information, which the operator must then synthesize and deliver to first responders. Putting data from different sources onto a single screen, Potts told me, is extremely valuable in such a context.
Sounding alarms for the future
RapidSOS does not have a history of brand exclusivity. In fact, it inked its massive deals with Apple and Google within months of one another. And this partnership is likely no different.
"Our vision is that every device should work together in harmony to save your life when you need it most," said Martin. That vision isn't limited to particular sectors or brands; it's about reshaping infrastructure.
Cerda seemed unbothered by the idea that other security systems may follow SimpliSafe's example -- or even partner with RapidSOS, too.
"[I] expect SimpliSafe will be the first of many," he said. "When we think about the impact on society, and on the effectiveness of the rapid response systems, this will work better when this becomes the norm… Sure, we will lead in that, but over time, we will lose that differentiation."
The partnership with RapidSOS may only be a temporary head start, and SimpliSafe seems poised to capitalize on it while it can. Cerda and Martin both spoke at length about the possibilities of further integrations, improving software and optimizing the data-sharing process over time.
"Tech is always evolving," Cerda said. "You can never rest in your advantage of today to maintain your differentiation tomorrow. You just need to be one or two steps ahead of where your competitors are."