Maximising the use of mandated in-vehicle data alerts

Published with permission from MDM Publishing Ltd
Maximising the use of mandated in-vehicle data alerts

Since the single emergency number was introduced in the UK in 1937, emergency services have been striving to provide the right resource to the right place at the right time. The need to send the right emergency resource to the right place is as important now as it ever was, and the European standard eCall provides control rooms with valuable information.

When it comes to road collisions, any firefighter will tell you every second counts. However, simply knowing where to go, and what to expect when you get there can be a lottery. Often drivers calling 999 to report a crash will not necessarily know exactly where they are, or in which direction they are travelling. Add to that the different techniques needed to deal with petrol, diesel or electric vehicles, and fire crews are often relying on guesswork when allocating resources.

This often leads to more crews being sent than necessary. How often have you been involved in, or heard of, two crews being sent to a motorway collision, one in one direction and one in the other, to make sure that you get to the incident in good time? Sending the wrong resources can cost lives, so the alternative is often to send extra resources which costs money.


Since 2018, the automated eCall safety system has been mandated in every new car and van on UK and European roads. eCall is a built-in safety feature which automatically activates in the event of a collision when the airbags are deployed. It can also be manually activated by the driver or passenger by pressing a button to report something they see, like a stopped vehicle on a live motorway.

The advantage of eCall is not only that emergency services are alerted when a collision involves an unconscious driver, which is important enough when it comes to getting help quickly to those most in danger. It also provides a rich set of data that makes an emergency responder’s job easier. This includes the vehicle’s exact location and previous two locations, direction of travel, fuel type and VIN number (which gives vehicle type, year of manufacture where it was made). It also details whether the alert was activated manually or automatically, and how many seat belts are in use.

This means emergency crews know exactly where to go, the type of vehicle they will be dealing with (given that electric vehicle fires need a very different approach to traditional Internal Combustion Engine ones) and how many people they might find, and what condition they may be in. The information shared is highly accurate, delivered very quickly, and could well contain details a caller themselves would not know.


As these advancements have come forward, BT as the UK handling body for the single emergency number, has kept pace with these innovations and provided the capability to pass the emergency data to the relevant receiving emergency service via Enhanced Information Service for Emergency Calls (EISEC).

For the emergency services to access the data, each receiving service needs to be signed up to EISEC service, which all are now, and then the relevant call taker/controller needs to access EISEC to pull the data down from BT within a 30-minute time window from the emergency service receiving the call.

However, in discussions with several emergency services, it has been discovered that the data is not always accessed despite being placed there by BT. The reasons are multiple and complex but the fact remains that EISEC is not always used to its best advantage. Meanwhile, a next generation of the single emergency number is due to be deployed all over Europe, but the term “next generation” in terms of the single emergency number has a different connotation in whichever country you look at.

BT, as the organisation handling 999 in the UK, is migrating to a new 999 system to be able to deal more effectively with the move towards supporting VoIP along with the advent of wearable alerting devices.


The favoured method of relaying information in the 999 system is voice, however, data could and should be playing a larger role. The volume and types of data are increasing monthly with new types of devices and data information being made available. Understandably this presents a challenge for BT and for the emergency services in how they receive the data from BT. Currently, the EISEC system is employed to provide a single point of reception for the emergency services, who are invited to go into EISEC to get the data applicable to the emergency call the call taker is currently dealing with. As never before pressure on the call takers at all levels is significant so it is vital that no process should be time consuming or complex.

Furthermore, the quality and quantity of data is only increasing. Since 2021 the type of alert has been changing with smartphones becoming more complex in how they capture data from the user and then where necessary make it available to the emergency services. This is illustrated with the Google Pixel phone and now the iPhone 14 and the Apple Watch Series 8, and several other wearable devices.

The common denominator with all these devices is that they all have algorithms that will detect what the device manufacturer defines as an event. At that point, the device may call the emergency services with either a data message or a voice call or both. The quality of these types of devices is dependent on the quality of the algorithms developed for the purpose, but it should be acknowledged that these devices can and will make mistakes.

How should emergency services deal with these advances? What is certain is that these innovations will not stop, they will become more complex, and the possibility of false or inappropriate calls will increase. The response to this innovation must be flexible to deal with what is currently in existence and what will come.


So how do all these new terms affect the emergency services and how they respond? The answer is that technology and emergency response are linked. The key to providing the correct response is to understand what the problem is, in most cases, based on voice and where the incident is.

The demand for emergency services for a response is increasing, and it could be argued that resources have not kept pace with the ability to respond. So, it would make sense to be sure the resource that is despatched is exactly what is required for the situation (where possible) and that the resource knows exactly where to go. Most location systems in use now are accurate and would enable the emergency services to be able to determine down-to-lane accuracy where an incident is, so rather than dispatch two or more resources approaching from opposite directions the location of the incident is clear.

There is an ongoing programme to educate the public on when to use the 999 system, this includes an initiative from National Highways in England to use eCall on motorways as an appropriate method to notify the traffic control managers that there is a problem. The eCall gives both voice and location, so is an excellent tool to notify the emergency responders. There is still a huge opportunity to make the full use of eCall data. Research has already concluded that eCall data alerts can reduce current voice-led response times by a factor of ten. Enhancing existing voice channels with a new data channel, coupled with automatic data filtering, can radically reduce the time taken to know of a collision or other event
needing a response.


Therefore, Intelligent Transport Systems experts and consultants Andy Graham, Danny Woolard, Alan Gentle and I have come together to form VESOS, the first dedicated company for analysing and processing eCall data to create validated incident alerts. The company also provides consultancy services on implementation and business cases for eCall, as well as strategic advice and data analysis.

The VESOS “TeCall” platform overcomes concerns about the new technology by sitting between the eCall service provider and highways and emergency command and control centre systems. TeCall filters, enhances, prioritises, and forwards eCall incidents that emergency services need, in the form they need, in seconds. It can also be a very valuable historic data source.

TeCall delivers data about a road incident quicker than an operator can say “what’s your emergency?”. TeCall alerts complement the existing voice channels and only report incidents in the geographical areas that emergency services want, filters out alerts from faulty units, provides data for analysis and operations, and ultimately saves lives by reducing response times. In the Connected Vehicle world, eCall is at the forefront. It’s not a question of if but when to start properly using eCall data.

We can use the eCall data from the vehicle to estimate the severity of the incident, and help emergency services prepare for what they will find when they get there. When every second counts after a road collision or stopped vehicle, this is a vital piece of technology. Imagine the value of a properly-implemented eCall system on a smart motorway. Within seconds of an incident being detected, systems can be automatically setting warning signs and closing lanes, keeping those involved far safer in the carriageway. ECall alerts from airbag activations are a highly reliable and rapid indicator of a collision that could become a major event.

The simple truth with all of this is that if the emergency services and the 999 system cannot deal with these relatively small and simple structure data sets (eCall is 140 bytes) what hope do we stand as we move towards the next generation of the 999 system and all that it entails?


The world is changing forever. It is now more connected than it ever was, the 999 system and the emergency services need to keep up with the changes and respond to the changes. Much of the change is being driven by commerce so is unlikely to slow down, there is also the question of the emergency services embracing these technical changes and ensuring that there is a dialogue as the tech companies of this world will continue to evolve at a frightening speed and will not even pause to think about the effect that the latest phone has on the “Emergency Response”.

eCall data is an obvious and readily available way of saving lives. I believe the work I and my VESOS colleagues are doing is unique in the world of eCall, delivering the analysis, assessment and implementation of eCall within the world of connected vehicles to the obvious benefit of emergency services and the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations. What we need now is a willing Fire and Rescue Service or two to work with us in taking the concept into the Control Room, improving efficiency and emergency response in the process.

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