When a baby is choking somewhere inside the winding cobblestoned
streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, or in any Israeli neighborhood, locals
powering motorcycles with ambulance gear give help before the paramedics
arrive. This is thanks to Israel’s one-of-a-kind volunteer emergency response
organization United Hatzalah.
To maximize response time, Hatzalah contracted local developers
to create a smartphone app to help deploy volunteers closest to the emergency
–– or to send mission alerts to doctors with certain specialties.
Now this app has been turned into a company with profits.
Israel’s NowForce is today a powerful
application that can turn a dozen or more smartphones into an emergency
NowForce turns your smartphone into an emergency call center.
“You could say that United Hatzalah was our first customer,”
says Julie Zuckerman, VP of marketing. “If you see the TEDMED Talk by the
United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer, he says that the three reasons for his
organization’s success are ambucycles, volunteers and our technology,” she
NowForce, founded in 2008 by three religious Jews, has a product
on the market that is being used in America by volunteer firefighting forces
and tournament organizers. It is also in place in Nigeria to coordinate
emergency teams and police.
Keeping college kids safer?
The company has developed two apps: one for community members
and another for response organizations.
These apps can communicate with each other through the
smartphone, so that emergency requests and response teams can be matched
quickly and safely to save lives and keep people and assets secure.
Let’s say Jennifer, a law student in New York, suddenly feels an
unwanted presence behind her at night. If the NowForce app is licensed by her
school and then uploaded by her, she can tap or swipe the screen to provide an
alert to the call center to come help.
The control room can deploy police or volunteers to meet
Jennifer at her exact location, even if she is unable to speak.
Theoretically it could also be used during terror incidents,
kidnappings or bank heists to quietly alert forces about what’s happening
behind closed doors.
“We allow for all kinds of data communications,” says Zuckerman.
“If you can’t talk, you could send SMS messages or images to let the control
room know what’s happening.”
The app can be programmed to work with dispatchers, or to deploy
response teams or individuals automatically based on expertise or location.
The ready-made, low-cost solution can be used by volunteer
firefighting units, private security companies or even workers who need to
cross borders that may be volatile or dangerous, says Zuckerman. The company
already works with a foreign company in this field.
“The main benefits here
are for people or organizations that need a response time in minutes and maybe
even in hours. As a startup, that is where we see the greatest need,” she says.
Security is obviously an important consideration. Extra measures
are built into the NowForce cloud to keep data from prying eyes. But companies
with their own servers and communications systems, even ones that work by
satellite, can integrate NowForce on a custom basis.
“It’s mostly police that will want onsite installations,” Zuckerman
Volunteer firefighters can “pay a couple of dollars a month per
user and it’s really much more affordable than a large-scale
multiple-million-dollar dispatch system.”
Boone County Fire Protection District is using NowForce to arm
the largest volunteer fire department in the state of Missouri. The district
runs 14 fire stations within a 500-square-mile area. They must coordinate a
volunteer force of more than 250 firefighters and emergency responders to
answer more than 4,000 calls every year.
Saving the developing world
One company in Nigeria is using NowForce as a mobile command
control to revamp its security infrastructure.
There is a huge market in the developing world, says Zuckerman.
“By 2012, there were already 650 million mobile phones in Africa, more cell
phones than landlines. In Nigeria, they have been using our system to dispatch
the police and they are expanding it to all their emergency and public safety
agencies like EMS and fire. The main benefit is that they can locate, alert and
dispatch responders wherever they are.”
NowForce doesn’t always require a data plan to work. If there is
an unusual scenario — maybe the data networks are down or you are in the middle
of the desert — there are other ways of activating the system, Zuckerman
“We did a field trial with a staged mass casualty event, and an
army set up its own network. Within 90 minutes, all 200 different casualties
had been responded to using satellite communications,” she relates.
NowForce employs 20 people in Jerusalem, with an office in
Washington, DC. Its three founders come from backgrounds in paramedics,
security and the air force.
The company saw more than a 250 percent growth in sales last
year and now seeks an investment of $2 million to $4 million to forge ahead in
the market of emergency response software.