Enhancing public safety through ICT route

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Rolling out readily implementable IT based products and services can help people and law enforcement agencies take preemptive actions to prevent most of the incidents before they happen

In 19th century Britain, pickpockets were hanged publicly to discourage others from committing this act. But when the crowds that had gathered to cheer the hanging returned home, many of them found that their pockets had been picked! What it means is quite obvious. Law can’t be panacea for all the ills.

While many are crying for awarding capital punishment to accused, involved in sensational rape of Delhi girl last month for checking recurrence of such crimes, doubt still persists whether it will have any tangible impact in the long run.

Then what is the solution to minismise occurrence of such crimes? How to improve public safety? What steps should be taken in a technology intensive environment to address the situation? These are some of the questions now being hotly debated in the aftermath of the spine-chilling incident.

“Prevention is better than cure” and all agencies responsible for public safety agree to this dictum and try to find a solution around this theory. The general view that has come after this incident favours deployment of more police force in and around cities and upgrading the police infrastructure to reach and react in a flash. But it is not a practical solution. With the current police- public ratio in the country this idea is not feasible.

One of my journalist friends in Kerala P Abraham Paul has come out with a proposal to embrace contemporary and readily implementable IT based products and services to assist people and law enforcement agencies to take preemptive actions to prevent most of the incidents before they happen.

Majority of such products are based on mobile phone applications and in view of the growing penetration of mobiles in the country, this idea really holds ground.

Here are some of the tech solutions:

Land line systems: It is mandatory to provide emergency call feature in all Public Telecom services.  In Land line systems, dialing codes 100, 101, 102, 911 etc. are available for accessing Police, Fire Station and Ambulance services. In networks abroad there is facility to send an alert call with calling line identity (CLI) and caller’s location to a Centralized control room by dialing digit ‘0’ and leaving the handset off hook.

Mobile phone systems: In Mobile phone systems, there is a feature that enables any one in distress to initiate emergency access by dialing code 112. This facility is available in all mobile phones even without the SIM card in it. Most phones can be programmed to send out emergency access code when a predefined ‘distress’ key is kept pressed for few seconds.

Using Location Based services (LBS) in Mobile phone technology, such emergency calls can be identified by the Mobile system and routed to nearest Control room autonomously based on the current location of the caller.

Such emergency calls will be picked up by any mobile network available in the premises. Using a special purpose phone or Customer Service station in the control room, callers phone number and location will be readily displayed to initiate take immediate action.

Street level Emergency Siren units : Such features of emergency access can be further exploited by installing and making available suitable Mobile SIM enabled pole mounted ‘Siren units’ in every street. Using LBS feature the emergency call originated from any mobile phone can be routed to the nearest ‘Siren unit’ to activate a loud beeping hooter in it. In parallel, information is automatically sent to the nearest Control Room for alerting the Mobile Police Petrol in the vicinity.

The Siren units shall be fail proof and tamper proof working on local power connections with stand bye battery kept charged with Solar panels.

These pole mounted Siren units will have a Mobile number (MSISDN) and will remain logged into the Mobile network. Failure or tampering of the unit in any way will be automatically sensed by Mobile system and reported to the Control Room.

Once activated, the unit can be deactivated only from the control room by accessing it and entering secret code/pass word.

Readiness of these units is to be checked periodically as a routine either at its physical location by mock call or accessing it from control room.

Such facility can be readily implemented in every place; in Urban and rural area where there is Mobile phone facility and also is possible in Land line networks. In rural areas the siren units can be placed in Police stations, Post offices, Panchayat offices etc.

Provision of Emergency Siren units in vehicles: It will be useful to provide an Aadhaar ID and a Siren unit for emergency use by commuters in any form of distress in every vehicle.

To begin with it shall be made mandatory to have such Siren units in all Public transport systems, Buses, Taxis and Railway compartments. The unit shall be tamper-proof and will have an GSM access number, ideally a short code of the MSISDN.

This access code shall be prominently displayed in every public vehicle in such a way that any traveler in distress can see and access it by dialing the number using their mobile phone. Such emergency calls made to every vehicle units will be identified by the Mobile switching system and autonomously forwarded in parallel to the nearest Control Room and Street Siren unit.

In addition every vehicle shall have ‘Emergency marked’ push switches at the back of the seats and also ‘chain pull’ alarm mechanism with it handle at convenient access points in the vehicle by which the siren unit in the Bus can be activated to arm the Bus units to raise an alarm and send an emergency call to nearby Street Unit and Control room.

The unit shall be permanently powered directly by the battery of the vehicle and shall remain logged into the network. It shall have internal standby battery in the absence of power from vehicle battery.  Tampering or deactivation of the unit will be detected in Mobile and can be programmed to make an auto call to the control room to inform the authorities about it.

Functional readiness of the units shall be periodically inspected by the authorities. The system should be such that once activated the Siren unit can be switched off only by accessing it from the control room.

Such features and products are readily available and can be implemented with minimum amount of additional applications. The greatest benefit is that awareness about availability of such system in every street and every public transport vehicle will act as deterrent to vandals and hooligans. Therefore, wide publicity shall be given to create awareness in both, the likely victims and likely perpetrators.

Special purpose gadgets: It is possible to provide such facility even with cheap special purpose small gadgets, something like the Pager that we have been using before the arrival of Mobile phones. It can work the same way like a Mobile phone without SIM to initiate an emergency call.

Gadgets can be made in the shape of bangles or wrist watches with a distress button. Keeping this button pressed for few seconds will send message to nearest control room.

Wearing such a gadget by itself will act as deterrent as no one will dare touch a girl or woman wearing such a gadget; and the intended object is achieved.

It is possible to add more features into such systems with the advent of NFC technology etc. Also it is possible to auto lock the doors of the vehicle or disable the vehicle engine after few minutes of the unit’s activation.

However, success of the whole system depends on the law enforcement bodies in setting up and round the clock efficient operation of Control rooms, Street Siren units and taking measures for effective implementation of Siren units in Public vehicles, its inspection, monitoring etc.

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