Solving Israel’s first responders’ communication crisis

United Hatzalah’s innovative solution to a nationwide communication predicament.

A UNITED HATZALAH volunteer holds the new smartphone mobile device that will be issued to all of the organization’s volunteers. (photo credit: COURTESY UNITED HATZALAH)
A UNITED HATZALAH volunteer holds the new smartphone mobile device that will be issued to all of the organization’s volunteers.
When the world had to transition from an analog to digital television system, there was, naturally, a flurry of panic and confusion. But what happens when a mandatory technology transition impacts the efficiency of thousands of volunteers who rely on their devices to save lives? This is the current conundrum United Hatzalah has been battling since their cellular carrier informed them that Israel is phasing out its Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (IDEN) and transitioning to a faster, more efficient LTE 4G network by March 2018.
Today some 3,500 United Hatzalah volunteers rely on this soon-to-be-obsolete technology every time they use their Motorola push to talk (PTT) devices.
While the volunteers also possess the organization’s LifeCompass app on their smartphones, which can dispatch them to the closest emergencies, the volunteers still rely heavily on the Motorola PTT devices for communication with the dispatch and command center, as well as hearing about emergencies in their general area a bit further away from those announced by the LifeCompass app.
As the country begins its transition to the new system, already some regions no longer support the old one, leaving some rescuers in a position where connectivity is spotty or not working at all.
“There are areas already that have no reception,” explained Aura Loewenthal, an industrial engineer who serves as the director of applications and information security at United Hatzalah.
In a lifesaving situation when every second matters, an unreliable communication device can really make a difference between life or death. This challenge is not unique to United Hatzalah. Many first-responder organizations in Israel or other PTT users must also find a way to adapt to the new technology before it is phased out completely.
“This is something that everyone in the world of PTT is dealing with,” Loewenthal noted.
United Hatzalah has devised a unique way to tackle this issue. Its new system, specifically designed to meet the needs of United Hatzalah volunteers, incorporates the positive aspects of the PTT system and a smartphone in one device. Adding the new LifeCompass 2.0 system also answers the changing needs of responders by meeting new government standards and also making communictions much more efficient.
For example, instead of transitioning from one frequency to another when a volunteer changes his or her location, the new system will automatically alter the frequency when it detects a change in location.
“What we are going toward is a device modified to our needs. What’s special about it is that it’s going to have volunteers save lives faster with less interference and hands-on maneuvering,” Loewenthal explained.
United Hatzalah recognizes that change can be difficult, even if it’s change for the better, and has thus begun slowly rolling out the new system. This week volunteers in Kiryat Gat were selected to be the first test case, given their high volume of calls and peripheral location.
The new system is a point of pride for the lifesaving organization, which is committed to implementing cutting-edge technology in every facet of its operations. To date, United Hatzalah has treated some 2.5 million people while reducing EMS response time from 20 minutes to a mere three.
The organization is piloting its newly incorporated Smartphone-PTT system on the LG Bluebird RP350 rugged smartphone, which is expected to have a longer battery life and louder speakers, two features essential for first responders.
All apps essential for the responders will be downloaded and ready to go prior to the devices being issued to volunteers, and keeping those apps up to date will be managed remotely and protected from viruses by the United Hatzalah IT department.
Waze will also be fully integrated into the new LifeCompass 2.0 app, so volunteers can speed to accident scenes efficiently.
The new communication device also has handsfree capability, whose interface allows volunteers to video stream what they are seeing in real time and relay that information back to the dispatch department or other responders. Moreover, the new system enables volunteers to dictate and file their post-incident reports via the device instead of taking time out of their schedule to type out reports.
Of course, upgrading thousands of devices is not cheap. “Changing over to this technology and purchasing the devices is an investment of a few million dollars for the organization. We are doing it because this technology is going to help our volunteers save lives,” Lowenthal stated.
And when it comes to saving a life, every dollar goes a long way.
This article was written in cooperation with United Hatzalah.