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City of Kingston pulls plug on PulsePoint app

The City Of Kingston has pulled the proverbial plug on its use of the popular PulsePoint app, disabling nearly all of the types of incidents the app reports to citizens.

The PulsePoint app’s launch in Kingston was highly touted and widely publicized in 2015, with organizations such as Kingston Fire & Rescue, Queen’s University, and Kingston General Hospital joining in to encourage the implementation, download, and use of the app. The initiative at the time was seen as a significant move forward in the municipality’s drive to become “a data-smart city.” The City of Kingston said that it would improve public safety by “alerting CPR-trained users when someone in a nearby public place needs CPR,” and that it would “also advise users of public defibrillators in the vicinity.” As a secondary but important feature, the app was also capable of informing citizens, in real-time, about other serious incidents which might affect them, such as gas leaks, downed power lines, collisions or fires. The City bore a cost of $5,000USD, not including staff time, to implement the app, and agreed to pay annual fees of $8,000USD to PulsePoint for the use of the program.

The three years of encouragement by the various agencies was highly successful. PulsePoint says that, as of Sept 2019, 8,000 Kingstonians had subscribed to the app.

But in a sudden and unannounced about-face in Sept 2019, the app will now only provide “CPR needed” updates when first aid is already being rendered as evidenced by the activation of a public AED (Automated External Defibrillator), according to the City.

“When a PulsePoint Public-Access Defibrillator is utilized, KFR receives an alarm from the unit (defibrillator). They then send trucks and issue a PulsePoint notice,” said Sarah Withrow, Communications Officer with the City Of Kingston.

Because the app will now only alert users when an AED been activated at the scene of a cardiac event and first aid is already being provided, the changes appear to render the app functionally useless.

The app has not provided any alerts of any kind since Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019.

The PulsePoint Foundation says it was unaware of the City’s planned changes. “The change was made in the (Kingston Fire & Rescue) dispatch center without our involvement. We really don’t know the status,” the organization said in a statement.

In what was seen by many as a model of transparency and public accountability, in addition to requests for public assistance, the app also alerted citizens of hazardous conditions, such as gas leaks and chemical spills, downed power lines, motor vehicle collisions and structure fires. Many Kingstonians had come to count on PulsePoint as a source of public safety information. But the City and Kingston Fire & Rescue have determined that this information falls outside of the type of real-time information they want to make available to citizens.

Brandi Timpson, Manager of Administration and Emergency Preparedness with Kingston Fire & Rescue, said in an interview that the PulsePoint notifications did not allow Kingston Fire & Rescue sufficient time to properly assess the situations before transmitting the alerts to the public, and could therefore cause unnecessary concern. Timpson said the City is working on other means with which to inform the public of relevant public safety concerns in a timely manner, but could not comment on what those means would look like in the future.

“Pulse point is a smartphone application, originally designed to alert people when someone in the community reports a cardiac arrest. This allows anyone with the app who has CPR training to assist until an emergency responder is on-scene. KFR will continue to use the application for this purpose. The fire department will not supply this third party company with dispatch calls out of respect for people’s privacy and the safety of our firefighters and the public,” Kingston Fire & Rescue said in a written statement.

According to the City, Kingston Fire & Rescue is listed as a future collaborator to improve patient outcomes arising from out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. “They are working with Dr. Steven Brooks here in Kingston to support his research,” the City said in its statement. When reached by telephone, Dr. Brooks stated he had not been informed or consulted by the City about the change recently made to the system, and could not provide comment on them until he had a chance to review it further.

Despite the change significantly limiting the original capabilities of the app, the City continues to pay PulsePoint the $8,000USD annual fee, which the City says “supports the PulsePoint Foundation and ensures consistent performance and reliable and timely technical support.”

Editorial note: After the original statements made above, the City Of Kingston and Kingston Fire & Rescue issued the following statement:

“When a cardiac medical event of any kind is received in our dispatch, a PulsePoint notification goes out to all PulsePoint responders who are to be trained in CPR. The idea is that a public person should respond to a nearby cardiac event to assist and the app also shows the location of a defibrillator. This is how the app was intended to be used.”

However, Kingstonist has been made aware by reliable sources of cardiac events which took place in public areas following the change, and did not elicit a PulsePoint alert. We have sought further clarification on this.

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4 thoughts on “City of Kingston pulls plug on PulsePoint app

  • September 18, 2019 at 6:56 pm
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    Pulse Point was an excellent app to inform me of MVA locations in Kingston thereby allowing me to avoid driving in these areas. Cannot tell you how many times I was spared sitting in a traffic jam as I changed my drive home route because of this app.
    Get your head out of the sand Kingston and support this app.

  • September 19, 2019 at 3:07 pm
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    I need someone to tell our “data smart” leaders a couple of things…

    Internet on the buses… just do it. I was told “too expensive” yeah well it is an investment. It is not too expensive. Add access to bus wifi via bus pass subscriptions.

    Evolve. They “majorly pushed” the app back in 2015 I can honestly say I haven’t heard of it especially any time recently! If you want people to use new things, you have to inform them. I’d regularly have local news stations and papers and websites posting updates about these features.

    Not everyone has devices but so many do. Some don’t have much more than the bare minimum in terms of voice, text, or data. Sometimes their device can’t support the most recent software.

    Develop with a wide range of target devices, once you have the most basic utilities down like the ability to show text or a news feed and support links and pictures. That’s all you need by the way. You can then develop more feature-rich utilitys like real-time location tracking support for maps, live bus maps, videos about road updates or local news, NFC integration for non-sensitive personal info like a bus pass subscription. Polls to engage in user feedback about the app software or other local events.

    You don’t have to do it all to get people to use the app, just regularly tell people it exists, and when some new feature finally arrives talk about how it works. Talk on local news, Put stories in the Paper, Post on the r/KingstonOntario subreddit, submit info to local websites/papers. Invest because the only place to go is more digital.

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