Blockchain for Social Good—Reinventing 911

first-aidBy Mark Jeffrey, Guardian Circle

The internet and mobile phones revolutionized the way the world operates, stays connected and communicates. Now we are entering the next revolution with blockchain technology, which seeks to decentralize everything and distribute power back to the people.

This technology goes far beyond recorded proof of material goods, offering recorded proof of identity: the authentication of a person’s existence, which impacts everything from fraud-free voting to emergency response in the wake of a natural disaster.

In the United States, we take 911 for granted. We assume that when we need immediate help, we simply dial a number and help is on the way. The reality is 911 is an antiquated system that has not improved since the 1960’s. If you call from a mobile device, operators have no idea where you are. Uber can locate you more easily than 911.

Even worse, six billion people worldwide and in developing countries have no 911 at all.

The emergency grid across the globe is in dire need of an upgrade. With the growth of blockchain innovation, the cloud and the proliferation of mobile devices, it’s time we did a full rethink of what an emergency grid can be.

How Emergency Response Should Work

Here’s how we at Guardian Circle think this should work:  Wherever you are on planet earth, whenever you’re in trouble, all you need to do is push a button. This sends your Emergency Alert up to the cloud. The cloud then looks down and sees what people and resources are already nearby. It then alerts, activates and coordinates that response, pushing help toward you immediately. Envision a ‘flash mob of help’, or 10 people in three minutes rushing to your aid, anywhere on the globe.

Who are these people?

  • Your friends, family and neighbors, to start. They are most likely to be closest to you and can send help fast.  They also are more likely to know life-saving personal information that can help first responders (allergies to medication, how to open your front door, etc.). We all have smartphones. We should be using them to do more than call and text. We should use them to protect those we love.
  • Uberized EMT’s. Imagine three qualified health care providers near you, on motorcycles, all speeding your way.
  • Uberized licensed and bonded armed private security.
  • Concierge alert operators: people who know how to quarterback an emergency remotely.
  • Emergency transport, which could range from an ambulance to ‘the guy with the truck’ in the remote village who can run you down the mountain to the nearest hospital.

When you’re in trouble, you want many people to respond — not just one person from a one-off text. And you want them there immediately. Who has time to make four phone calls when you’re having a heart attack? Most importantly, you want them to be the right people: qualified and experienced, since every second counts.

Blockchain Powers The Emergency Grid

Although many people have no 911, they DO have mobile devices—and they have each other. An open emergency grid where regular people can band together to start addressing safety issues goes a long way toward fixing the current issues.

In India, where a woman is sexually assaulted every 15 minutes and she calls the police, the police typically assault her as well. Women do not have the same rights worldwide so the answer is not “more police.” A citizen-based response, where she can immediately reach her brothers, friends and significant other who truly care about her well being, is the only answer.

emergency-helpTo create a sufficient density of qualified citizen responders in any given area, we need an ecosystem to compensate them, since hospitals and doctors do not work for free. This argues strongly for a crypto-token, since this new emergency grid is borderless and is meant to service the five billion people without a bank account. What’s more, because settlement is instant and bankless, your emergency response grid can travel with you wherever you go.

Uberized EMT’s, security, emergency transport—all are paid with a token for every hour they remain on duty.  Consumers pay into the ‘protection pool’ with low-cost subscription services. Safety is such a giant problem worldwide that if we can make the cost low enough, it will be something many will eagerly participate in.

RELATED: How the blockchain economy aligns incentives and rewards

However… even that may not be enough in the developing world: we may need to subsidize it. We’ve thought of that too and encourage the remote sponsorship of safety via impact gifting to those in the developing world.  Just as you donate to the American Red Cross or the ACLU, you can donate tokens to emergency response, and trust that your dollars actually had the desired impact since everything is recorded on the blockchain.

With a blockchain token, you can track your sponsorship dollars as easily as a FedEx package. You can see exactly how your safety donation was spent and because it goes direct and does not go through a bank, government or organization, you know it was not spent inefficiently or inappropriately: scandals like the American Red Cross losing $50M for Haiti cannot happen on the blockchain.

Immutable Evidence

With this new emergency grid, we will finally have a complete record of every Alert, including:

  • A full timeline of who said what.
  • Location records: Where everyone was, where they went—including responders.
  • What time people responded—or did NOT respond—to an Alert.

This record is then encrypted and stored on the blockchain. Custody is then given to the Alerting party, the one with the emergency.  They have natural ownership, they decide who sees it and who does not.

Most importantly, this information is tamper-proof because it is stored on a blockchain. No one can alter this evidence. Police cannot tamper with it and neither can the alerting party.  Everyone can rest assured this is a full and true account of the events recorded during the emergency.

Emergency Information Lockbox

Your default permission profile changes radically once you’re in an emergency situation. You’re far more willing to share information you typically prefer to keep secret.

Examples of this might include:

This emergency information can be encrypted and stored on a blockchain. It can be released only when you declare an Emergency, and only made available to your designated recipients, using a two-key multisignature unlock mechanism.

If an EMT knows that you’re allergic to bee stings, she can figure out how to help you much faster.  Timely information can save lives.

An Emergency Grid With An API

911 today is a closed network. There is no way to build valuable new services on top of it, like we do with Facebook and Google. The emergency grid of the future has an open API where new inventions and health safety devices—like Apple’s iWatch that detects an irregular heartbeat or a smart blood glucose monitoring system for those living with diabetes—can easily plug into the grid.

We can all be responders as well as alerters. Over time, if someone wants to set up a new innovative paid response service—EMT’s on motorcycles—they will be able to access the grid as well.

It Takes Outsiders

Just how the taxi industry needed a grassroots, peer-to-peer ridesharing competitor to kick it in pants, emergency response will require outsiders to reboot it.  As it stands now, 911 is “too big to fix.” There’s too much inertia, too many entrenched interests and no money. There is simply no incentive for 911 to innovate, to get better.

We believe that once this new system is demonstrated to be significantly more effective, only then will municipalities want access.  This mirrors the way the taxi industry was forced to respond to Uber and Lyft with hailing apps and actually-working credit card machines in cabs.

We believe municipalities should be folded into this new grid—it’s far superior to what they are using today, and it’s far cheaper.


With emergency response, we can do a lot better. Lawlessness and safety are the number one problems in the world. These are the roots of all other problems. In a lawless society, education is not possible. Prosperity is not possible. Of course, we can’t solve it all—but if we can make emergency response 500% better 70% of the time… that’s a massive social change.

With a new blockchain-powered emergency grid, we save lives. We will make people safer. In a safe society, education is possible. Girls who can’t walk to school for fear of assault stop going to school. We need to fix that. If we solve just this one thing, the side-benefits that flow from it are extreme.

Mark Jeffrey

Mark Jeffrey is a speaker, author, and co-founder and CEO of Guardian Circle.

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