Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

It took 15 minutes for the first ambulance to arrive at the accident scene. Dr Fanie Hattingh, a medical doctor with emergency service experience, knew exactly who to call when he came across the emergency in early 2013.

But he realised that most people, even if they had data available and knew how to search Google, did not know who to call in an emergency.

Hattingh is a co-founder of mySOS, an app that provides emergency services at the touch of a smartphone button.

"In SA, we have a situation where there are multiple service providers, with multiple contact numbers changing from town to town and province to province," says Elja van Urk, operations manager at the company.

"mySOS wants to give South Africans access to the closest and most appropriate service providers in the event of an emergency."

The app, which is free to download and available for Android and IOS phones, offers links to several emergency service providers, tailored to location, medical aids, insurance and security companies.

It has different options: emergency, find near me and tracking. The emergency tab offers pretty much everything needed in a life-threatening emergency, from medical information to road assist. There is also a sea rescue option.

"Our service provider list includes South African Police Service offices, government and private hospitals and clinics," Van Urk says. "We have integrated data systems with Netcare 911, ER24 and some of the private ambulance companies."

The University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand are partners, with buttons on the interface to report emergencies on campus.

As soon as an emergency is logged, a user’s phone starts dialling the closest service provider. The app offers a function that creates an emergency as soon as it is opened, allowing for 60 seconds to tap the bright red bar to let it know that a mistake has been made and there is no immediate danger.

It is possible to cancel an emergency if the wrong button has been pressed.

"Find near me" provides a list of service providers in the user’s area, their distance from the phone’s location, and their phone numbers — including vets, pharmacies and dentists.

There is a function for walkers, runners and cyclists that allows them to set a "track me" timer. If this is not cancelled by the estimated time of the end of the exercise, the user’s emergency contacts will receive an SMS with location details.

Van Urk says that there is no advertising on the app. "We work on a business-to-business model," she says. Businesses can pay to have a larger, more prominent button on the app. "A user is linked to this group as per business specifications and will have access to these services."

In March, the company added a new revenue stream, a panic button. It connects to smartphones and the app via Bluetooth. If the button is held down for two seconds, it activates the emergency function.

Sporting Events

Among the major clients of the app are sporting events, with mySOS covering about 400 events a year, Van Urk says.

The app allows participants to signal if they are in trouble and helps organisers find lost or late participators.

Taariq Surtee, a project manager at Wits, says the university wanted to "make it easier for people to be able to contact services, such as campus control, support services, maintenance".

He adds: "mySOS partners with many of the emergency service providers around the country. They have access
to hospitals, police stations,
vet services — and the information they have is up to date
and geolocated.

"Any Wits user, whether on campus or not, can leverage what mySOS has developed for Wits," he says, adding that users do not pay to use the service.

Importantly for Wits, all emergency calls are routed through a custom-made emergency dashboard located within the campus control, which will "be the quickest to respond".

The app, which has 71,000 users, hopes to expand its partner base in 2017. "We are in talks with government institutions for integration on a local, provincial and national level and we will hopefully expand our university network this year as well," says Van Urk.

She says the company complies with the Protection of Personal Information Act and all its data has encryption protection.

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