1. ITV Report

New app to allow 999 callers to live stream from the scene of emergencies

Pioneering new technology to help emergency services across the UK improve the way they react to major incidents is being developed by firefighters in the West Midlands.

The web-based app, dubbed 999Eye, will help give fire crews, police, paramedics and mountain rescue teams access to what is being posted on social media during an emergency.

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Control room call handlers deal with hundreds of calls every day - but they are completely reliant on the caller to know their exact location and to convey the seriousness of the incident to a degree that the operator can allocate the appropriate level of response.

Meanwhile, with research suggesting more than two-thirds of people in the UK now own smartphones, it is becoming ever easier to share updates on social media while on the go.

This means that often when an incident breaks out, within minutes there can be a stream of photographs and video online - images which could prove vital to preparing emergency crews before arriving at the scene.

The 999Eye app will allow that to happen.

The app will work by sending a single-use URL to the caller's phone via text message Credit: ITV News Central

It will work by sending, with the caller’s permission, a text message to their phone after they have called 999 to report an incident.

By clicking on the URL contained in the text, they will be able to set-up a one-use-only live video stream to send the footage straight to the call operator.

The app, which cost around £20,000 to develop, will also enable the phone’s loud speakers, so the operator can speak with the caller while the video is streaming.

And if the caller has poor signal, they will be able to choose to send still images instead.

It is hoped the app could prove useful in major incidents such as the recycling plant fire in Smethwick last year Credit: West Midlands Fire Service

This, says West Midlands Fire Service’s research and development coordinator Matt Wroughton, could help improve responses to incidents such as the recycling plant in Smethwick last year.

We received several calls, but at the same time there were multiple pictures going on to social media. We didn't actually know the scale of that incident until we attended and arrived.

Potentially in the future if we had other incidents like that, and we could see the scale through the stream at the point of call, we could send further resources that we could never justify just from a verbal description of an incident.

– Matt Wroughton, West Midlands Fire Service

It would not be used in every emergency, and would only work with the caller's permission. As it is web-based, there is no need to download anything directly to the smartphone itself - the app is simply accessed through the URL sent in the text message.

The caller would not be able to access the app again without being sent a new link, and Mr Wroughton also said the footage would be fully owned by the person recording it - meaning it could not be used by the fire service for any other purpose than instructing crews.

Firefighters say they were not aware of the scale of the fire in Smethwick until they arrived, which could change if the app is rolled out Credit: West Midlands Fire Service

Area commander Simon Shilton said the app could also be particularly useful for ambulance call handlers, who could use the additional video information to provide more specific instructions in a life-threatening situation.

This has huge advantages for all blue light services and all service users in terms of making a decision around the right resources.

For instance if we look at the health environment, if the call handler can see exactly what the caller is trying to describe verbally, then they can give more accurate advice.

– Simon Shilton, West Midlands Fire Service

A total of 19 emergency services across the UK have already signed up to a pilot launch of the app, which is due to go live in January.

If it proves successful, it could be rolled out across the board - and with blue light services overseas also showing interest, it has the potential to change emergency responses around the world.