Three digits, so little time.
Numbers can take on profound cultural significance, but few numbers have quite the resonance as 911, the emergency number for the United States. Few want to dial it, but when they must, it works — every single time. One industry trade association estimates that 240 million 911 phone calls are made every year, ranging from the quotidian loud dog to the exceptional terrorist attack.
While it may be a singular number, 911 calls are directed to roughly 5,700 public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country, all with independent operations, variegated equipment, disparate software, multifarious organizational structures, and vast inequalities of staffing and resources.
“Every 911 center is very different and they are as diverse and unique as the communities that they serve,” Karin Marquez, who we will meet later, put it. You have massive urban centers with dozens of staffers and the best equipment, and “you have agencies in rural America that have one person working 24/7 and they’re there to answer three calls a day.”
These organizations face a tough challenge: Transitioning their systems to incorporate information from billions of new consumer devices into the heart of 911 response. Location from mobile GPS, medical information from health profiles, video footage from cameras — all of this could be useful when police, firefighters and paramedics arrive on a scene. But how do you connect hundreds of tech companies to a myriad of 911 technology providers?
Over the last eight years, RapidSOS has become the go-to solution for addressing this problem. With more than $190 million raised, including an $85 million round this past February, RapidSOS now covers nearly 5,000 PSAPs and processes more than 150 million emergencies every year, and it’s technology is almost certainly integrated into the smartphone you’re carrying and many of the devices you have lying around (the company counts about 350 million connected devices with its software).
Yet, like many emergencies, the company’s story is one of reverses, misdirections and urgency as its founders worked to find a model to jump-start 911 response. RapidSOS may well be the only startup to pivot from a consumer app to a govtech/enterprise hybrid, and it has the most extensive directory of partnerships and integration relationships of any startup I have ever seen. Now, as it expands to Mexico, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, this startup with its roots in a rural farm in Indiana, is redefining emergency response globally for the 21st Century.
The lead writer of this EC-1 is Danny Crichton. In addition to being the EC-1 series editor, managing editor at TechCrunch, and regularly talking about himself in the third person, Danny has been writing about disaster tech and first covered RapidSOS back in 2015 prior to its public launch. The lead editor for this story was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.
RapidSOS had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Crichton has no financial ties to RapidSOS, and his ethics disclosure statement is available here.
The RapidSOS EC-1 comprises four articles numbering 12,400 words and a reading time of 50 minutes. Here are the topics we’ll be dialing into:
- Part 1: Origin story “Smoking pizza ovens and pilfered dollar bills, or the early story of RapidSOS” (2,700 words/11 minutes) — explores the early years of RapidSOS and the company’s pivot from consumer app to govtech and integrated services for technology and device companies.
- Part 2: Product and business “RapidSOS learned that the best product design is sometimes no product design” (3,700 words/15 minutes) —analyzes how RapidSOS made its pivot and why its current business model has performed so well.
- Part 3: Partnerships “How RapidSOS used creative tactics to build partnerships and a BD engine at scale” (4,000 words/16 minutes) —investigates how RapidSOS has built up so many dozens of corporate and individual partnerships in its quest to transform 911.
- Part 4: Next-generation 911 “After a decade, Congress might finally bring 911 into the internet age” (2,000 words/8 minutes) —looks at the future of 911 after a decade of stagnation and limited funding from Capitol Hill as well as the future prospects of RapidSOS.
We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at firstname.lastname@example.org.