IoT in Emergency Services

IoT in the emergency services sector seeks to solve the 3 major challenges: early detection of incidents, equipment operability and intervention efficiency.


IoT in society

The Internet of Things (IoT) is present in more and more areas of our society, and the Emergency Services sector is no exception. However, while in other sectors the presence of the IoT technology stack is much more widespread, there is still a long way to go in this one.

IoT is a means to facilitate the connection between the physical world and the digital world. It helps to transmit to the digital world what happens in the physical world. It is the "senses" of the digital world, its way of interacting with physical reality.

These IoT devices allow us to know in real time what is happening in the physical world without the need to be present in the precise place where the data collection takes place.

IoT applications in sectors such as agriculture (e.g. to optimize fertilizer and irrigation quantities and frequencies based on certain real-time soil measurements), energy (e.g. to measure the production and consumption of electricity in a household with a solar self-consumption system) or the manufacturing industry are already common today.

But what applications can IoT have in the emergency sector?

The challenges facing emergency services

First of all, we must understand what are the main problems faced by the emergency services, and for that we have to understand the essence of their work.

Emergency services are responsible for dealing with extremely urgent situations that require quick and efficient interventions. The most obvious cases are: fire fighting and out-of-hospital emergencies.

And if we analyze these cases, there are 3 key points that greatly influence the outcome of the work of these teams:

  • Early detection of the incident: the sooner the emergency services are aware that an incident has occurred, the sooner they can rush to attend to it.
  • Operationalisation of teams: Having an intervention team ready to respond to an incident requires a series of processes, usually inventorying. The faster and more efficient this process is, the sooner the team will be operational.
  • Efficiency in intervention: The more efficient teams can be in dealing with an incident once it has arrived, the more likely they are to succeed.

It is precisely these 3 points where efforts to improve through new technologies are usually focused, and where IoT in Emergency Services makes sense.

How IoT Helps Solve Emergency Services Challenges

IoT solutions that are beginning to appear, in many cases as first pilot tests, but in others, as consolidated solutions, try to "attack" one of the 3 challenges we mentioned above.

Red Electrica (REE), for example, began more than a year ago to develop an R+D+i project to install IoT (Internet of Things) sensors for the early detection of forest fires.

The system they developed is based on sensors installed in the infrastructures of the high-voltage transmission grid and, by analysing the radiation data, they send alerts to the forest fire extinguishing teams. In this way, the warning of the presence of a fire arrives much more quickly and the duration of the incident is reduced, as well as its social, economic and environmental costs. In its first tests, it was possible to detect a small fire of one meter in diameter at a distance of less than 200 meters.

In a similar vein, Telefónica has developed a project in collaboration with the Carlos III University, also focused on the early detection of forest fires, combining the use of IoT with drones.

They use their telecommunications infrastructure (the towers with antennas that give us mobile coverage) to detect, through thermal sensors, any possible fire outbreak within a perimeter of up to 15 km. Once the outbreak of fire is detected, an alarm is sent to a drone that is parked in a hangar in the telecommunications tower itself. This drone, autonomously, then moves to the point where the fire is potentially located and, through on-board sensors, collects optical and thermal images of the fire. At the same time, in real time, it sends all the information it collects thanks to the mobile connectivity provided by the Telefónica towers to the emergency services.

Another interesting pilot project is the one developed jointly by the Generalitat de Catalunya, SEM, Vodafone, i2CAT, IECISA and 5G Barcelona. The project aims to make patient care in ambulances more effective and efficient by equipping vehicles with 5G connectivity and mechanisms for transmitting and receiving information that can help in the treatment of patients during the incident.

In addition, the emergency services themselves are actively seeking innovative solutions to help them solve the challenges they face . A good example of this is the open innovation challenge launched last year by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, which was won by Barbara IoT with a proposal for critical inventory management based on Barbara OS technology.

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