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10/09/2017

How emergency location is changing safety in New Zealand

All the insights from the first country outside Europe to deploy AML


How emergency location is changing safety in New Zealand
Inaccurate emergency location is one of the biggest problems of emergency services. That is why Advanced Mobile Location (or AML) has taken Europe by storm: using the handset's location, the protocol provides first responders with much more accurate location information compared to previous systems. Easy and cheap to implement, it is now going beyond Europe.

New Zealand is the first non-European country to deploy AML. To understand their experience, Benoit Vivier, EENA Advocacy Officer, spoke with Ben Quay, Programme Director at Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in New Zealand.
 

 

BV: Hi Ben, nice to speak to you. Could you please introduce yourself?
 

BQ: Thanks, Benoît.  I’m Ben Quay, Programme Director at Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), based in Wellington, New Zealand.  For the last 20 months, I've been the Director for the Mobile Caller Location (MCL) project, the objective of which has been to automatically provide emergency services with the best available location of a caller when they dial 111 (New Zealand’s emergency number) from a mobile phone.
 

"The problems we were seeing with apps were that people weren’t downloading them, or
they weren’t using them in an emergency – apps added a lot of complexity for users."

 
 
 
BV: How did you get to know about Advanced Mobile Location?

BQ: Initially, MBIE was looking at creating a downloadable smartphone app to meet the objectives of the project. However, feedback from project research suggested that the available technology was changing and other countries were beginning to move away from downloadable apps.

The problems that we were seeing with apps were that people weren’t downloading them, or they weren’t using them in an emergency – apps added a lot of complexity for users. In addition, the feedback we received from industry was that from an operational management perspective, keeping a critical app up to date on different platforms would be difficult long-term.

The timeline for the project was also overly ambitious. So we took the opportunity at an early stage to review the project, to ensure it would deliver a quality system that was fit for purpose, as Emergency Services were seeing over 70% of calls to 111 being made from mobile phones.

With support from my project business owner and sponsor I engaged Michelle, one of MBIE’s researchers, with a very broad research scope to identify material, solutions and other information on what other jurisdictions were doing.  A few days later Michelle sent me a summary of topics that she thought would be worth exploring further, which included a paper from EENA on BT’s AML. That was the start of our AML journey.
 
 

"After gathering further information and making some valuable connections at the
EENA Conference, we were confident we had the right solution."

 
 
BV: What made you consider it as a good option for the emergency services in New Zealand?

BQ: We were initially cautious, as AML was very new.  A colleague and I had a late night call with John Medland, BT’s 999 Policy Manager, who provided more information. The key challenge we identified was that AML required phone manufacturers to make changes to their operating systems and in some cases, hardware. We started to engage with our mobile network operators at this point to see what was possible, however it was obvious that progressing with AML was going to present some challenges.

EENA provided us with support and put us in touch with some new contacts. At this stage we were still looking at other options, such as 3GPP standards options but the requisite technology wasn’t implemented in New Zealand networks yet. AML kept coming up – we could see that it was working, having recently been implemented in the UK, and the stats were impressive. It was also cost-effective.

An opportunity came up to attend EENA’s 2016 conference in Prague, which included a presentation by Google about AML. At the conference Google announced that AML was to become ELS, and that they were going to incorporate AML into the Android operating system. This was great news for us, and even better, Google indicated they’d already started testing ELS with the UK and Estonia. 

This meant that we no longer had the issue of having to work with multiple handset manufacturers to make changes to their phones to enable AML.

After gathering further information and making some valuable connections at the conference, we were confident we had the right solution. ELS stacked up; it delivered the project objectives and provided long-term benefits.  Our project steering committee signed-off on the approach and AML/ELS became our solution.
 
 

"The system has been running smoothly since introduction. Overall, our experience was that
it was simple to implement and it’s proving to be reliable, accurate and fast."

 
 
 
BV: How did the deployment of AML go in New Zealand? Did you encounter any difficulties?

BQ: Before I discuss ELS deployment, I should provide a bit of context of the broader MCL project. The MCL project comprised over sixteen different work streams. ELS accounted for three of these. Other work streams focused on:
  • Implementing a solution for all mobile phones that involved low precision location data provided by the mobile network operator using information about the cell tower through which the call is connected;
  • Establishing many new commercial relationships, for example with mobile network operators and technical solution providers;
  • Building a system for processing and retaining location information;
  • Enhancing the technical systems of emergency services providers, to enable ELS to work; and
  • Amending New Zealand’s privacy regulations to regulate emergency caller location information, to remove the need to require consent from the caller to send location.
Alongside this, public and media interest in the project was growing.

There were over 150 people who contributed to the success of the project across the many organisations involved. The MBIE team is small, and we maxed at six FTE during the busiest period.

Despite the overall complexity of the project, ELS itself was simple and straightforward to deploy.  Google were fantastic to work with and very responsive. The New Zealand mobile network operators were also great to work with, and really got on board. They tested ELS on their currently supported and sold phones, and they have since incorporated the ELS test scripts into their standard commissioning processes for new phones, to ensure the solution is future-proofed. 

Testing of ELS took around four weeks, all of our testing criteria passed – we were at that point ready to deploy.  With the ELS agreement signed, Google pushed out the ELS configuration on 28 April to all New Zealand Android devices, and we started receiving our first ELS SMS moments later. All up, it took about a week to fully rollout the Android update.  The system went live on 3 May and it was officially launched on 10 May.

The system has been running smoothly since introduction. Overall, our experience was that it was simple to implement and it’s proving to be reliable, accurate and fast.
 
 

"AML has been described as a ‘game-changer’ by emergency services."
 
 
 

BV: New Zealand went live with AML in May 2017. How do you assess the added-value of AML so far?

BQ: It’s been described as a ‘game-changer’ by emergency services – it enables them to respond more quickly to emergency events from mobile phones, because they’re able to more easily identify the probable location of callers.

Without a doubt, it is improving public safety and helping save lives. Our colleagues at Police, Fire and Ambulance have been sharing stories from their call takers about how the system is making a significant difference for people in need. In some cases it’s been absolutely vital in getting help to people faster.

 

BV: Looking at the future, what do you think should come next for AML?


BQ: We are exploring the ELS HTTPS option that Google have implemented into Android, as well as national and international emergency roaming support.  We’re also discussing elevation as an extension but the use?case needs evaluation.

In future, other development opportunities might include dual-frequency GNSS, looking at a basic direction of travel, or whether additional location information should be provided for longer duration calls. We’d obviously need to evaluate and test any new developments to the system to ensure they’re appropriate for New Zealand and deliver additional benefits.
 
 

"For countries thinking of implementing ELS, my advice would be to
get on with it – the solution works."

 
 
 
BV: Anything you’d like to add?

BQ: For countries thinking of implementing ELS, my advice would be to get on with it – the solution works. There are some complicated implementation aspects to work through but it’s best not to over-think it. Particularly in the beginning, keep the project as simple as possible and limit the scope to getting location information from a mobile to a call-taker/dispatcher. 

I think our success has been due to the great relationships across both the public and private sectors, and drive to deliver from everyone involved.  We received fantastic support from our Minister for Communications (who was effectively the project/policy owner), emergency service providers, mobile network operators, suppliers, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

Lastly, thanks to EENA for your support throughout the project!
 

EENA, the European Emergency Number Association, is a Brussels-based NGO set up in 1999 dedicated to promoting high-quality emergency services reached by the number 112 throughout the EU. EENA serves as a discussion platform for emergency services, public authorities, decision makers, researchers, associations and solution providers with a view to improving the emergency response in accordance with citizens' requirements. EENA is also promoting the establishment of an efficient system for alerting citizens about imminent or developing emergencies.

The EENA memberships include more than 1300 emergency services representatives from over 80 countries world-wide, 80 solution providers, 15 international associations/organisations, more than 200 Members of the European Parliament and over 90 researchers.