In The Call, set for release on March 15, Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who receives a call from a teenage girl who has just been abducted and is being driven down a freeway in the trunk of a car. It's a fictional thriller that, unfortunately, mirrors real life.
In fact, it was a real-life situation that prompted Los Gatos businessman Jay Elliot to support the Denise Amber Lee Foundation.
The foundation was started after Lee, a 21-year-old mother of two, was abducted from her Florida home in January 2008. She was able to call 911 from her kidnapper's phone, but was unable to give dispatchers her exact location.
An eyewitness gave sheriff's deputies an exact location of the crime as it was happening, following the abductor's vehicle and identifying cross streets to 911 dispatchers. Despite the fact there were as many as four sheriff's patrol cars in the vicinity, the foundation's website says no one was dispatched because of inefficiencies in the 911 call center. Denise's body was found in a shallow grave four days later.
Fast forward to the present, where Elliot's company, NuApps, has developed a smartphone app that can pinpoint a person's exact location in an emergency. The app, which is available for iPhones and Androids, is called vSOS.
"What we're offering is a complete tracking system," Elliot said. "You press a button and your call goes to our call center. They have your profile, so they
know who your are and where you are. If you don't answer, they call 911 to get emergency responders to you."
In addition to notifying the call center, activating the app also allows users to simultaneously notify up to five people that there's an emergency.
The call center, GEOS Response, is lotcated in Houston and is staffed by retired military, police and fire emergency personnel. "As characterized by the Denise Amber Lee situation, time and location are a critical part of an emergency," GEOS CEO Mark Garver said. "Our emergency staff understands that seconds save lives and we save seconds."
In addition to the U.S., the call center covers 106 United Nations member countries.
Upon hyearing about vSOS, Denise's father-in-law, Mark Lee, wrote to Elliot. Lee said, "It is shocking that with technology today emergency responders cannot locate the exact position of a cell phone dialing 911. If my daughter-in-law had the vSOS app, I believe she would be alive today."
Although today's smartphones all have GPS tracking capabilities, Elliot thinks his app is "more efficient and more precise." He says, "Our ultimate goal is to put vSOS into the 911 system."
The vSOS app is $9.99 per month or $19.99 per month for a family of four. But anyone who donates $20 to the Denise Amber Lee Foundation can get it free for a year.
"The foundation does tremendous work to promote awareness of the shortcomings many of our emergency services still face," Elliot said. "We are doing what we can to bring this and other life-saving applications into the hands of the people who may one day need them."
Elliot says the app potentially has a wide market, from the elderly to the medically and sight-impaired, as well as parents and children.
"It can be voice activated, so if you know where the button is on your phone you can activate it without anyone else knowing," Elliot said. He adds that when people purchase the app, they can input any medical information that may be pertinent to a personal emergency.
Visit deniseamberlee.org and teamvsos.com for more information.
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