Written for Land Mobile Magazine March 2014
A recent report stated that 70 per cent of emergency calls originate from mobile phones. This is an obvious benefit of mobile technology but many callers are unable to give a sufficiently precise location and information to enable the best response.
There are a number of apps which allow smartphones to transmit location which can form a basis for monitoring vulnerable people. However for emergencies such arrangements raise four questions: 1) is it secure?; 2) will there be sufficient information?; 3) will the person you are calling be available?; and 4) if so can they do anything useful about it?
This term has entered common usage over the last 10 years or so although as the technology involved has developed it has embraced wider applications.
It is worth explaining how Lone Worker services operate – a classic example of the synergy of man and machine working together. There are four elements:
- The individual with a problem
- The device or app which generates and distributes the alarm message and opens the audio connection to the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), over the mobile network
- The software in the ARC which receives the alarm message, presents it in a useful form to the operator together with other pre-recorded personal information about the individual and their instructions
- The operator who combines their judgment and experience with the available information, including that from the audio link, to request the appropriate response
The ARC operator is central to the operation. The mobile technology enables the three pieces of information needed to initiate a response; location, identity and situation. These are essential to a) verify the alarm as genuine and b) give the information necessary to provide a proportional response.
As well as safeguarding employees, Lone Worker services can act as protection against litigation for the employer as it limits the amount of vulnerability if anything goes wrong.
This is a highly flexible system. The initial input can apply to a wide variety of other situations, e.g.
- High risk domestic violence victims
- The elderly – allowing them to remain longer in their homes
- Those with selected medical problems – enabling them to be treated at home rather than hospital
- Some of those in care of the social services
Monitoring application – the ARC
What happens at the ARC is critical. The device or app will have transmitted the alarm message over the mobile network and followed it up with a two-way audio connection.
The alarm message will have triggered a response from the Lone Worker platform which presents the operator with information regarding the individual and their location. The audio link will provide information about the individual’s situation. Both sources of information enable the operator to use their judgment and experience to make the decision about what to do next.
Depending on the device or app the monitoring application can use location information in different ways. For example if the system is sending regular locations it can provide a history of the person’s movement. It may be configured to show the locations of several individuals in a team used in a workforce management role as well as transmitting emergencies.
One essential element of the monitoring application is the pre-recorded personal details and instructions. Details may include; medical, contact, employment, age, gender and ethnicity. Instructions will include who to call in an emergency.
Most situations relate to some sort of emergency which may occur at almost any time. Therefor it is important that the message is received by a person who can really do something about it who must:
- Be 100 per cent available 24/7
- Have the experience and judgement to deal with an almost limitless range of situations
- Haveaccess to essential information about the individual to assess the situation and request the right response
- Have direct access to the emergency services
- Be known by the emergency services, giving them confidence that it is a genuine situation and allowing them to respond accordingly
Lone worker standard
There are many providers of such services with an often bewildering variety of solutions. Fortunately there is a British Standard, BS8484, which should be used as an initial filter.
Personal emergency response systems will not be accepted by emergency services in the UK without the intervention of a third party (i.e. the ARC) to provide a ‘validated’ alarm, which is why the introduction of BS8484 has been championed.
The companies who have achieved certification to this standard have invested in the resources to deliver a best-practice service that delivers a guarantee of security for Lone Workers, appropriate to the potential seriousness of emergency situations. Fully-certified BS8484 services are the only acceptable standard for obtaining a police response to Lone Worker alarms. Several such suppliers have also added the wider applications to their available services.
A list of BS8484 accredited suppliers cab be found at: www.bs8484.com
The British Security Industry Association has a useful web site for further information at www.bsia.co.uk
Clearly, this whole service depends almost entirely on the mobile network. There are procedural ways to mitigate this dependence such as the use of pre-recorded messages and timers. These are less effective but still a necessary part of the service.
Devices or apps should be able to work in minimal communications by sending messages in advance of audio and be able drop down to SMS if GPRS is not available. Such arrangements go some way to mitigate degraded or lost communications. Purchasers should be aware of these vulnerabilities and ask potential suppliers how they would combat them. Innovative companies will go even further to mitigate the risk – Argyll, for example, offer regular communication link checks.
Lone Worker protection is a complex business depending on a robust mobile network. It is vital for users of Lone Worker services to seek out BS8484 accredited companies as a minimum requirement because they offer the best guarantee of security for vulnerable people and reduces any ambiguity of legal responsibility for the employer.