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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

How Waze crowdsourcing navigation app can help emergency services

Posted on 17th May 2018 at 13:21pm


The European Emergency Number Association (EENA) and Waze, have published the final report on a pilot project entitled Exploring the use of Waze for emergency response.

The report notes that, while many factors contribute to the effectiveness of an emergency response, time has always been a determining criterion for the success of rescue operations – whether the taken to answer an emergency call, the time to classify the call and determine the caller’s location, the time to dispatch resources, and the time taken to reach the location, significantly affect the effectiveness of the response.

With the increasing number of emergency calls coming from mobile phones, the time taken to identify the caller location has become an important topic during the past few years. Technology on mobile devices has made it possible for emergency services to receive accurate caller location data in a shorter timeframe. However, there has been a slow uptake of this technology by emergency services.

An increasing number of users drive their cars using navigation applications. While some years ago, navigation applications suggested only the shortest route between two locations, now they also offer live traffic information used by their route planners.

This technology has turned users into active contributors by crowdsourcing of traffic related data and allows them to report incidents that may be of direct interest to emergency services.

The rationale for this project was based on the availability of traffic-related data and incident data on mobile devices. While the data is free, there have been no previous studies in Europe, on how it could help emergency services.

Might emergency services benefit by monitoring incidents reported on these applications, or by dispatching resources using route planners that take traffic data into account? Could emergency services inform the public about ongoing incidents and operations? Would this help reduce the resulting congestion and risk? Would it indirectly benefit response operations? How can emergency services use this data in their daily operations?

EENA and Waze entered into a partnership in April 2017 and launched a pilot project to understand if – and how – using traffic data could improve of emergency response operations. Waze provides real- time, anonymous, incident or delay-related information directly from the source, ie the drivers themselves.

Waze and EENA partnered with four pilot sites to study the use of the Waze Connected Citizens Programme (CCP) – which allows free exchange of anonymous and public data between Waze and the programme’s partners – for emergency response. The pilot sites were:

An initial analysis indicated that Waze could help reduce response times by reducing the time to identify and locate an incident and the time to select the most appropriate vehicle to dispatch. These uses are related to emergency services using crowdsourced data from Waze. On the opposite data flow, emergency services can provide incident information to Waze users and help reduce their driving time and traffic congestion around the accident. Based on these hypotheses, two possible use cases have been selected for the project:

  • Incident notification – When Waze users report an incident in Waze, emergency services could get the notification in their Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system via an integration to receive data from Waze.
  • Provide data to citizens via Waze – Emergency services can provide data to Waze about real time or planned incidents, such as road closures, accidents, construction works or hazards. Waze uses this information to help affected users avoid delays and also aim to reduce the numbers of citizens being affected by the incident.

With Waze integrated in their CAD systems, call-takers and dispatchers had direct access to data on their screens and could switch to a map view containing the information from the Waze feed. In pilots without this integration, operators asked the assistance of a member of the staff, such as the supervisor, to look at the Waze online tools.

Regardless of how the data was accessed, pilot sites used Waze to check reported incidents and identify a more precise location. Their experience was positive and Waze helped reduce the time to locate accidents in many cases.

The pilots found Waze very useful for sharing information with drivers and it was used in a similar way they use Twitter, Facebook, radio or TV. The pilots appreciate that Waze reaches drivers that will be directly affected, at the time that this information is most useful to them.

One of the most interesting use cases revolves around planning emergency vehicles’ routes when taking traffic conditions into account. The app can be used to help select the most appropriate vehicle to dispatch and provide route suggestions to the vehicle driver.

By defining flexible protocols for these use cases, the pilot sites reported there is no high risk involved and no reason not to use the app. The pilots also show where caller location information is lacking, Waze can help in locating a vehicle collision. They observed that notifications in Waze are quick and a number of incidents appear in Waze before an emergency call is received.

The full report is available here

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