In developed nations around the world, people tend to take emergency response systems for granted; 911 in the United States, 999 in the United Kingdom and 000 in Australia are examples of telephone numbers that can be dialed in times of emergency and with full confidence that rescuers and security forces will be promptly dispatched to handle the situation. This is real peace of mind that should evoke civic pride.
People in the aforementioned countries also trust that their emergency systems are able to integrate and collaborate efficiently. Unfortunately, such is not the case in Kenya and other African nations where these systems face major challenges. In 2013, a high court in Nairobi issued an order to reestablish 999 service after being inoperable for more than a decade. The system was suspended in 1998 due to lack of resources, thus leaving Kenyans no other choice but to rush to local precincts to report crimes and emergencies.
Emergency medical services are not lacking in Kenya; they are mostly provided by private businesses that charge reasonable fees and in some cases payment arrangements. The problem is that these ambulance service providers are not efficient in terms of intake, communications and dispatching. Pricing and availability are competitive, but it is a hassle for people to call these companies one by one to find one that can respond quickly.
Enter Flare, a Nairobi startup recently selected by AppsAfrica.com as one of the most innovative tech services in the Continent. Flare is a mobile app that has been described as the Uber of emergency services. Kenyans can install Flare on their smartphone to find an ambulance service that is available and affordable; the app uses GPS technology to track the vehicles and guide them to the scene of the emergency. In the back-end of the Flare app, ambulance service providers can utilize reporting and resource management features to improve their operations. This can help them get an edge in their business sector and get the attention of prospective partners and investors.
The Uber-like functionality of Flare is only the beginning; the founders and developers, Maria Rabinovich and Caitlin Dolkart, are working on expanding their app so that it can connect other emergency services such as firefighters, hospitals, rescuers, police officers, and social workers. Multi-agency response would be a major achievement for a nation such as Kenya, and it could be the beginning of a real emergency system worthy of being activated via a 999 call; naturally, this would also be an ideal situation in other African countries.