Visual Earth, a digital strategy and service experience firm in t h e UK is partnering with the Lagos State Ambulance Services to deliver a more accurate location-based service for the Lagos State first responder service.
The service will be powered by USSD using Geo-SMS functions to make sure that the Lagos State Ambulance Service can accurately locate the originating locations of more emergency calls in the nation’s second most populated state and Africa’s most populous city.
According to research by the World Health organisation, accidents are responsible for more than deaths than HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. According to another study by Gosselin et al, Road Transport Injuries (RTIs) account for more than 1.24 million deaths and also accounts for between 20 to 50 million disabilities in Low and Middle-income Countries (LMIC), including subSaharan Africa with subSaharan Africa being the most culpable when it comes to the most amount of RTIs in the world.
Visual Earth said it is partnering with the Lagos State Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS) because the organisation is a first responder in Africa’s most populous city. The status of Lagos as one of the cities with one of the highest mobile penetration on the continent also helped in making it a strategic place to deploy the solution.
According to statistics from the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), 82 per cent of Lagos residents are active mobile subscribers thereby presenting an opportunity for the digital service company to implement a service that will help provide adequate responses to RTIs.
On the part of the Lagos State Ambulance Services, they have opted to use the Visual-earth-powered service because they need it. According to research by the Visual Earth team, location-based issues are posing a challenge to the management of distress calls by LASAMBUS hence the need for create an accurate location service to help LASAMBUS carry out its functions with precision.
Most of the RTI calls that the LASAMBUS failed to manage properly was majorly because of location-based issues. According to the study by Visual Earth, most of the times when the LASAMBUS got to the scene where they were called for RTI-related issues, they either found out that the locations given were either not correct, or saw that the victims had been transported to hospitals through other means.
With the Visual Earth solution, the LASAMBUS teams are equipped to respond to RTI emergencies with better accuracy thereby saving a lot of lives in the process.
The research that led to the development of the solution was funded by the NIH Fogarty International Centre and was supported by the University of Texas at Dallas.
Powering the solution: The technologies used
Virtual Earth is using a combination of technologies to deliver the solution that LASAMBUS is now adopting. Generally speaking, they used mobile communications protocols, locationaware technology and opensource platforms. Delving deeper into the technology used, they note that they used a combination of USSD, Geosms and web scraping technologies to power the new solution. The USSD functionality allows users to dial and access LASAMBUS departments to report various kind of RTIs while also combining with GeoSMS functionality to share the location of the people reporting the RTIs. The GeoSMS functionality is used to track RTI distress calls, then the web scraping technology is used to extract the caller’s positioning and other relevant details which are then sent to LASAMBUS in order for the relevant authorities to make their way to scene in order to handle the RTI successfully. The web scraping functionality is also used to extract public complaints about a particular RTI as well as follow up on the location being tagged. That way, LASAMBUS can accurately track the location of incidents. How it works The Virtual Earth team said that the solution will be powering three distinct segments of the solution. The solution will bring together three sides of the puzzle: the USSD/ GeoSMS Notification side, the server-side, and the client-side. The USSD/GeoSMS side makes sure that citizens in Lagos can report road transport incidents by dialling a USSD code and choosing the type of incident that they want to report. Thereafter the person reporting the RTI receives a geographically-enabled SMS thanking them for reporting the SMS after which the case is moved to the server. The server utilises the GeoSMS by extracting the message’s payload, doing an image search and identifying the subscriber’s positioning on the map and also identifying if there are other subscribers reporting the same RTI. After this, the server also identifies the closest LASAMBUS ambulance as well as the proximity of the closest hospitals. After this information is collated, they are sent to the client-side, the next segment of the solution. The client-side is the segment of the solution that is in the hands of the ambulance drivers and other LASAMBUS personals. On their devices, they will receive RTI report notifications triggered by the server after determining that they are the closest unit to the scene of the RTI. The client interface shows the unit, the location of the RTI, helps them with closest route to the scene and shows them the closest hospitals and health facilities that can handle the case assigned to them. They have the ability to accept or reject a distress call assigned to them, but they have to explain the reasons why they are rejecting a call assigned to them.
What are the aims of the new solution?
Speaking on what they aim to achieve with the new solution, Virtual Earth says that, “By embedding GeoSMS notifications in a USSD message, it offers an opportunity to generate location-aware notifications and data that can be used to create RTI maps, helping to accurately identify areas of high injury incidence.”
The team also highlights the importance of data that will be gathered by using the solution. They said, “The generated data and created map views are also planned for use in developing a spatiotemporal series of interactive RTI maps, used as part of an intervention strategy to reduce the RTI burden for Lagos State and LASAMBUS.” In a document sent to Business A.M. by the Virtual Earth team, they noted the following as their reasons for the research and development of the solution:
- Develop a tool to determine the true burden of RTIs in Lagos State, using mobile communication protocols, location-aware technology and open-source platforms.
- Determine the effectiveness of using USSD messaging, embedded with GeoSMS notifications, to identify the position of an RTI on behalf of LASAMBUS Determine the feasibility of integrating social media scraping (namely, data mining), triggered by initiating a USSD call, into the process of reporting an RTI to LASAMBUS
- Compare the accuracy (spatial and temporal) of integrated mobile communication protocols with current RTI reporting mechanisms
The service’s benefit and function
Faster reporting achieved
Virtual Earth said one of their goals for developing the solution was to cut back on the response time of emergency services to RTI incidences. It says that it has achieved this during its test phase as they have recorded monumental successes in the time reduction. In a document shared with Business A.M, Virtual Earth said that they have reduced LASAMBUS response time from 15 minutes to 5 minutes. That’s a huge difference when it comes to a subject as sensitive as RTIs where lives can be lost or saved depending on the emergency services arriving quick or late.
Faster dispatch of ambulances
According to Virtual Earth, with its combination of GeoSMS and web scraping functionalities, the solution is able to get more details about RTIs as well as provide more accurate location reporting cum likely context reporting which in turn helps LASAMBUS to dispatch ambulances more quickly.
Better location identification
The major problem that was identified during Virtual Earth’s preliminary research of LASAMBUS activities was that a majority of the RTI reports were not managed properly due to a prevailing problem of wrong location description and identification. With the GeoSMS and GIS functionality of the USSD code created, Virtual Earth has been able to solve this problem for LASAMBUS. Using GIS, Virtual Earth says, “Ambiguity and error in describing and reporting the location of an incident is eliminated.”
Impactful use of social media
The service also use social media with web scraping to further verify a more accurate calculation of the RTI site. Virtual Earth explains that the initial USSD code when dial will trigger a social media scrapping that will follow hashtags like #LASAMBUS, #LagosIncident or #RTILG that the public will be encouraged to use for purposes like that. “Reporting posts on Social Media will be encouraged to use hashtags like #LASAMBUS, #LagosIncident or #RTILG, to enhance search identification,” Virtual Earth said.
The solution was created through funding by the NIH Fogarty International Centre through an R21 funding that was provided for the research. The research was also backed by Nigerian Telco giants 9mobile who provided the platform for the Visual Earth team to test their innovation.