All Commentary
Friday, September 27, 2013

The New First Responders

P2P peacekeeping

What if you could report emergencies anywhere, have faster response times, and strengthen local communities, all without spending thousands of dollars or involving bureaucrats?

We are seeing sluggish emergency response times in many big cities around the United States, and in parts of Detroit and Chicago you’d be lucky if someone came at all, even hours later. This is the problem with having a one-size-fits-all monopoly on emergency services. Sure, the system works pretty well, but when it has problems it can be a matter of life and death. And those problems don’t cause any firm to lose profits when they drop the ball. Tax money still fills the agency’s coffers, rewarding incompetence. (In economics we call this a soft budget constraint.)

Cody Drummond at Peacekeeper is rethinking defense and emergency response with a new app he is developing. His focus? Bring it local and use something you already carry to alert those around you to a problem. In those critical first moments during a crisis, you can alert those closest to you and get the help you need faster.

“Peacekeeper gives every individual the opportunity to become a force for good in their own households and neighborhoods,” the Indiegogo project reads.

This is what social entrepreneurship is all about, isn’t it? Finding new ways to use technology we already have to strengthen our community ties and make our lives better.

If we already have emergency services that we pay for via taxes, why use a system like this? My friend Jason Kelly and I brainstormed ways Peacekeeper (or something like it) could be more effective than our current situation. I’ve listed them below, in no specific order.  

  • The break-ins I’ve heard about are usually quick, a smash-and-grab type scenario. Even if police can get there in 10 minutes, your stuff is usually long gone. Neighbors could be there within moments if they get a push notification, and you can have a web of people positioned around the neighborhood to thwart the crooks’ escape.
  • Burglars often hit multiple houses in the same neighborhood in a night. One push notification will put the entire community on alert.
  • Peacekeeper has tremendous potential for integration with other discrete systems. If a neighbor’s ADT alarm gets triggered, it could notify people in the community. Hooking this up with a Smart Things system could remotely lock your doors with an alert, automatically notify your group if fire sensors are triggered, or even turn on a water system outside that could drench your house to prevent a fire from spreading.
  • Groups can designate a community nurse to be “on call” at various times. Someone who knows CPR, has an EpiPen, and knows how to stop bleeding can save your child’s life when seconds count.
  • Fires are admittedly hard to put out without specialized equipment, but you could easily notify neighbors in case the fire spreads, or notify your whole apartment complex to let everyone know (especially if they are at work or out of town) that there might be property damage.
  • Since many small towns have volunteer fire departments, an app could send push notifications directly to volunteers with your current location, while also notifying the fire station. This cuts down the time on the phone and slight delay in contacting the volunteers.
  • You could report emergencies anywhere you are and locals will be notified. Your phone could easily send location data to first responders, solving the problem of how long it takes to triangulate a cell phone call, as well as eliminate the confusion of an outsider not knowing where he is.
  • Since this app alerts your neighbors, friends, and family, you can be sure the people you just asked for help will show up and do whatever they can to assist you. This is the benefit of relying on local community.

Even if Peacekeeper doesn’t break the emergency services monopoly in the United States, it can still bring big advantages, including precious minutes. Strengthening local ties and providing voluntary, cooperative services is step in the direction of a free society.

How could you use a system like this? 

H/T to Zachary Silva for pointing Peacekeeper out to me last week.