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Creating a Distributed Computing Topology at the ‘Edge’

Leveraging edge computing and IoT in digital transformation to increase citizen access to services

 Marty Smyth

Chief Executive Officer

Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA)

 Jas Singh

Chief Data Services Officer

Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA)

A better way forward

To succeed and thrive in our modern world, every organisation needs to constantly be thinking about improvement and growth. That doesn’t necessarily mean expansion. It means growing the knowledge base and using technology to better serve clients, customers or constituents. This is as true for the public sector as it is for any other kind of business. Public sector institutions however, especially large ones answerable to government, are sometimes constrained by what they can do, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

In Victoria, the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) is the dispatch organisation for emergency services and the one that takes triple zero calls. Marty Smyth, the Chief Executive Officer of ESTA, says that it is “the critical link between the Victorian community and the state’s emergency services agencies.” In fact, “the integration of emergency services communications within ESTA is unique in Australia.” Already ESTA takes a call every 11 seconds, or 7,600 calls daily, and dispatches emergency services to over 6,100 incidents daily. Despite these numbers, “it is a remarkably efficient system, but our population is growing and demand for our services is increasing.”

Previously, ESTA used to just be the dispatch for fire, ambulance and police services. These are still the bulk of the calls, but ESTA is also responsible for radio calls from the field, and for looking after non-emergency medical transportation, fire alarms, burn-offs and other such incidents. Moreover, not every caller speaks or understands fluent English and “the communications landscape is changing. There is a different set of expectations of a 21st century emergency service, and we know that we need to change too.”

Currently it is almost entirely one-way traffic. People in precarious situations call triple zero. “We want people using our services to be able to connect in ways that suit them best and not be limited by our systems. We have a vision where we will exchange information through a network of trusted channels and devices, and where intelligent and adaptable systems will help agencies make better decisions.” This a vision where people with disabilities will be able to call just as easily as anyone else, and where emergencies can be monitored by “a range of internet connected devices in the field and then alert us to the location and advice on the type of help required.” All of this will be achieved using Edge computing.

“If we are to support the growing level of activity and continue to deliver the best service possible to the community, we need to build a future where our best work is backed up by the best technology and practices. We want our call takers and dispatchers to have the best diagnostic tools to help them make the best decisions.”

Edge computing will achieve ESTA’s vision

Jas Singh, the Chief Data Services Officer at ESTA, says that emergencies can take any form and therefore “our technology must be flexible and adaptable.” This means constantly working on updates, but never forgetting that “first and foremost, we must ensure our triple zero service is always available.” It is a 24-hour-a-day operation and can never go down. Any updates must take that into account. ESTA is moving to “a multi-cloud environment” which will also incorporate “Edge computing capabilities.”

Put simply, Edge computing allows raw data to be processed closer to the point of collection. This means that it can assist in faster and more efficient data collection, computation and storage. In the first instance, it will “allow our call takers and dispatchers to collaborate across thousands of assets in the field so that they can react to events in near real-time with exceptional responsiveness.” It will make the network stronger and more resilient even if there are interruptions or outages, and across the whole organisation, Edge computing also has the ability to assist in a number of other ways:

Connected vehicles

“If a vehicle connected to the internet crashes, ESTA, with the support of vehicle manufacturers, will be able to receive a video and audio feed to check if the driver needs help.” The technology would also be able to locate the car if the driver is unresponsive. Tesla vehicles connected to “4G or 5G networks with portable dashboard cameras” are already trailing this concept.

Language translation

ESTA currently employs live translators for callers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. “Edge computing will support faster live translations.” Humans are not always available, especially during peak periods and for rare languages, so the software will be able to be there to assist, to “double check for errors and misinterpretations,” and to “perform translations in near real-time across many concurrent calls for up to 36,000 CALD callers a year.”

Video AI

“Edge computing will allow us to accept a wide range of video feeds from public CCTV systems and have artificial intelligence (AI) analyse them for a range of situations.” In future, call centres will have live video feeds as well so that responders will be able to see a situation unfold, not just hear it. Moreover, though there are “hundreds of cameras on the road network,” the technology will be able to “monitor the feeds to determine which ones we should be looking at” if there’s an accident. Currently some video feeds are monitored but “Edge will allow us to help identify incidents so we can dispatch the right response.”

Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet connected devices will be able to monitor things like safety, floods, fires, weather, fire alarms and the like. IoT presents a “wide range of opportunities,” and Edge computing will be necessary to “handle the volume of transactions and benefit from combined insights.”

Photo uploads

The uploading of photos from emergency situations to Edge devices “will allow the cloud infrastructure to receive the upload quickly, particularly in regional areas, and scan them with AI to determine whether our emergency operators need to see them.” Photos from such situations are often traumatic or overly graphic and this will avoid the operators seeing unnecessary images. During large-scale emergencies, many photos and videos can be scanned in seconds to assist with recovery and response.

Handset safety monitoring

All emergency responders have radios, but “as we expand the capabilities of our traditional radios, we expect to see mobile applications.” For instance, such devices could assist with temperature monitoring. They could also assist to monitor “high risk situations and then the alerts could trigger safety check-ins and the dispatch of additional support for our emergency responders.”

“ESTA has a big journey ahead of us enabled by data, AI, IoT and of course, Edge computing. It is an exciting digital future. We have started the journey. We have a long way to go.”