How an app can save a life

By: Annet Bos
On: October 7, 2011
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About Annet Bos
Master student New Media after finishing the bachelor Media and Culture @ UvA | MediaLAB student 2010 | interested in how new media affect soceity | entrepreneurship | field hockey player | travel addict


Mobile applications are no longer just for fun and (financial) benefits. They can even help in saving a life. Think of Amber Alert, a Dutch warning system for missing children, Slown Down , an app that slows down your music when you’re driving too fast or The FireDepartment app, for citizens to help others with heart attacks. I will discuss this last one in my review.

In January this year the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District (SRVFPD) in California launched an iPhone application that communicates cardiac emergencies to trained citizens in order to help. The app was developed after Richard Price, a former software engineer and now the fire chief of San Ramon, was having lunch with his IT team (including a paramedic) and then finding out that next door a person had been dying of a heart attack. He was not aware of this till the fire truck with its sirens showed up. The fire chief realized the urge for an alert system that would reach out on trained people’s mobile phones, and that is why the SRVFPD created the app.

Once there is for instance a heart attack reported, a trained 911 dispatcher inputs certain codes from the call, and persons with CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) skills that have downloaded the app and are in the neighbourhood automatically get a notification giving the details of the emergency and the location in an interactive map. Also, the app tells you where to get the nearest electronic defibrillators off the wall. In here, citizens get the role of sensors, and can save a life before the official resources arrive.

According to Alex Howard from O’Reilly Media, who wrote an article on this app, it is a good example of government as a platform; Gov 2.0: ‘The employment of the Internet and the world-wide-web for delivering government information and services to the citizens.’ (United Nations, 2006; AOEMA, 2005). But the app is more than alerting authorities and citizens and sharing information: it can even save lives.

There are 1.2 million firefighters in the US. But there are 3 million additional citizens who are trained in CPR (and many more who could be); if this app could be made available nationwide, it could potentially save many more of the 300,000 people who die of a heart attack each year in the US (and many more around the world.)” (Tim O’Reilly)

Right now this app is only available for people in the San Ramon district, but it will be likely that more municipalities will follow. Workday, a company that donates community and development efforts for supporting the application, has committed resources to support other cities’ fire departments to get the app. O’Reilly suggests it might be a good fit for Civic Commons, which purpose is to be a device by which cities can share their innovative projects with each other. The developers of WorkDay have volunteered to get the app working on other platforms as well, including BlackBerry and Android.

Available in the Appstore:


Making it easier than ever for CPR-trained Good Samaritans to save lives.” ABC News
I have chills.” Kym McNicholas, Forbes
A breathtaking new iPhone app.  Apple, have you seen this?” Press:here
We are committed to seeing this technology implemented broadly and on multiple mobile platforms.” Jack Parow, President IAFC
This may be the most important development in the treatment of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest since the automatic external defibrillator! Simply awesome.” Tom Bouthillet, Wireless Health
Geolocation app appeals to your inner good Samaritan.” Michael Gorman, Engadget
An excellent example of the potential of Smartphone apps.” Marianne Schultz, AppShopper


United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “United Nations E-Government Survey 2010”. UN. Retrieved 2010-04-30

Alexander B. Howard + update form Tim O‘Reilly. New geolocation app connects citizen first responders to heart attack victims

Comments are closed.