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Noonlight Brings Caller Information to 911 Dispatch for Free

A mobile app sends 911 a message with location and other personal data from connected IoT devices, automatically giving responders information in place of the user making a phone call.

In an emergency, first responders want to know at least a few key things: what’s wrong, where it’s happening and who’s in danger. Depending on the situation, 911 callers aren’t always able to explain. Several tech companies have taken a whack at this problem, and one, Los Angeles-based Noonlight, has done so by populating a dashboard with a caller’s information from IoT devices and making it freely, automatically accessible to responders in the event of a call.

Chief Operating Officer Matt Johnson said Noonlight launched in 2013 as SafeTrek, the brainchild of a couple of college students at the University of Missouri who wanted to replace the campus’ blue-light emergency phones with smarter technology students already had in their pockets. The mobile app they created was a button/PIN combination that would send a geotagged alert to 911 dispatchers in place of a phone call, in case a caller couldn’t talk or wait by a phone pole.

As SafeTrek gained users, its creators realized the app was being used in ways they hadn’t anticipated, such as in response to epileptic seizures or domestic violence. Realizing the broader potential of the tool they had created, they built a back-end dispatch system to handle traffic. Rebranded in 2018 as Noonlight, that now entails a staffed, proprietary call center and the ability to put a user’s health information and other data in an online dashboard via connected IoT devices such as Nest Protect, Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple Health.

“Data from those devices can enrich that alarm and help both our operators that are getting that alarm, and ultimately the responders that will come to help you, really understand what’s going on,” Johnson said. “You may connect Apple Health data or have an Apple Watch, you’ve connected that into the app, so I now know you’ve triggered an alarm, your heart rate is skyrocketing, and let’s say the Nest Protect in your house is reporting smoke. I’ve got a pretty solid idea of what’s happening.”

Pointing out that Noonlight only has value if responders have quick access to the data it collects, Johnson said the company made its online dashboard viewable by any 911 call center that gets contacted by the app without subscription or payment. The company makes money from user subscriptions.

“We want every 911 center in the country to have access to this,” Johnson said. “We think that paints a future where these IoT devices and smart devices are not only convenient, but they really are a source of life-saving help to you, and to your responders a source of much greater situational awareness than they would have had in the past.”

Johnson said Noonlight has amassed 1.5 million active users across the United States since 2013, and he offered a few success stories. One, reported by The Denver Post in December 2018, involved a teenager who contacted police with his location from the back of a stranger’s car.

Monica Fraley, a 911 dispatcher from Prestonsburg, Ky., vouched for the app as “simple and efficient.”

“Noonlight has the coordinates of the caller’s location, as well as a name and number. That information is vital and could take us a few minutes to obtain from a caller who is hysterical or in a dangerous situation and unable to speak without compromising their safety,” she said.

Johnson acknowledged Noonlight isn’t the only game in town where emergency-response data is concerned, mentioning his respect for RapidSOS and its work with phone providers. But he said what sets Noonlight apart is the ubiquity of its platform and its compatibility with any dispatch center, regardless of sophistication.

“From the beginning, we wanted a broadly accessible platform, so we built it so that no matter what technology you have in your 911 center, you’re going to be able to take advantage of the Noonlight platform and the data that can come through,” Johnson said. “The ability to push [the information] to the man or woman who is ultimately providing response on the scene is fairly unique. I know some other folks are working on that, but I think we put a dent in it, and then our vision for this … is about continuing to expand the safety net you have around you through smart devices.”

Most recently, Noonlight added features such as automatic crash response and an automatic PulsePlus Taser alarm that alerts police upon discharge. He said Fitbit is also considering adding Noonlight compatibility in 2019.

Further down the line, he foresees an opportunity for Noonlight to tackle “active safety,” for instance advising users to turn down their thermostat or turn off their stove in response to rising carbon monoxide levels.

Johnson said the company has also opened partnerships with universities and transit systems, which promote the platform in exchange for data Noonlight collects on emergencies that occur on their property.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story mentioned the company's original headquarters in Missouri and said Noonlight was planning to add compatability with Fossil Sport products in 2019. Noonlight recently relocated its headquarters to Los Angeles and is already partnered with Fossil.

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.