Smart devices and automatic emergency calls

Publication date 6.4.2023 8.35 | Published in English on 12.4.2023 at 11.02
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New technology has been created to assist in situations where a person needs help but cannot summon it themselves. Dialogue between the authorities involved in emergency response centre operations as well as futher technical development is required to take advantage of the technology.

Automatic emergency calls made by smart devices have been the topic of public debate in recent times. For example, the calls could be originated by a function connected to a phone or cycling helmet, which reacts to a sudden jolt or rapid change in the measured speed. A sensor in a smart device can detect a sudden stop and interpret it as a fall or collision, for example. In such a case, the user may be notified that the device will initiate an emergency call unless the user cancels it within a set time.

New technology has been created to assist in situations where a person needs help but cannot summon it themselves. Naturally, one of the challenges is that the core task of an emergency response centre operator is to assess the risk and dispatch the responders specified by the authority in charge. If information cannot be obtained from the scene, it is impossible to determine what kind of help is needed. Responding to ambiguous situations requires dialogue between the authorities involved in emergency response centre operations.

− Some devices start by reading out an automatic voice message, which may provide information on why the emergency call was made. However, some automatic calls are connected to the emergency response centre like ordinary calls. If it is impossible to talk to the person concerned, the operators cannot assess the situation, says Marko Nieminen, Head of Operations at the Emergency Response Centre Agency.

Further development required to take advantage of the technology

The new technology has been deployed rapidly, and hardware manufacturers may not have considered how automatic notifications function within the Finnish safety authorities’ operating models and Finnish legislation. Furthermore, the new functionalities offered by smart devices also require users to learn new things.

− According to the feedback from emergency response centre operators, most automatic emergency calls from smart devices are false alarms. For example, users were unable to stop an unnecessary emergency call from being initiated. However, Nieminen says, there are cases where a person has needed help and received it thanks to an automatic emergency call.

When assessing the methods for making emergency calls, it is important to consider the implementation of the directive on accessibility requirements as an amendment to the Act on Emergency Response Centre Operations. Consequently, section 10 a of the act entering into force on 28 June 2025 states, “The Emergency Response Centre Agency shall respond to emergency notifications made to the emergency number (112) using real-time voice calls or text messages. The Emergency Response Centre Agency may also respond to an emergency notification made by other means that enable interaction between the Emergency Response Centre Agency and the person making the emergency notification.” 

In other words, the method for making an emergency notification must enable interaction so that the operator can assess the risk and assign the task to the appropriate authority. In the case of smart devices, it is problematic if there is no voice connection and the risks cannot be assessed. The relevant government ministry is considering the matter further.

The Emergency Response Centre Agency’s official services and emergency notification channels are conventional emergency calls, emergency text messages, eCalls and the Emergency Call in Sign Language service, which is available in the 112Suomi app. eCall is an emergency message service used in the event of a traffic accident to transmit information about the type and location of the vehicle to the emergency response centre when a voice connection is established between the vehicle and the emergency response centre. In the event of an accident, eCall sends a data package to the ERC containing information about, for example, the direction of travel of the vehicle in the accident, the type of vehicle and also whether the call was placed manually or automatically.