Rugged Phones Boost Worker Safety

— August 10, 2011

On any given day, Bristol City Council’s civil enforcement officers (CEOs) in the U.K. are at risk of being verbally or physically assaulted by irate vehicle owners while issuing parking citations. In early 2011, the city deployed Sonim XP3 Sentinel phones with built-in software for lone worker protection to 84 CEOs, giving them much-needed peace of mind
while performing their duties.
 
The new phones replaced two different models of mobile phones that had proven inadequate in the field. “We had a lot of problems with our phones breaking,” says Paul Watts, shift manager.
 
“They were flimsy, the battery life wasn’t good, and they kept cutting out. Toward the end of their life, I was probably sending about two to three phones back a week to be repaired.” The previous phones were essentially “mobile phones with a panic button added,” says Watts. But what the CEOs really needed was a reliable safety phone designed specifically for lone workers.
 
After extensive research, Watts found one that fit the bill: the XP3 Sentinel featuring a dedicated panic button. If a CEO feels threatened while on the street or wants to be monitored while working in a dangerous area, she pushes the panic button, which connects her to Vodafone’s code5 service and SitexOrbis, a company that specializes in 24/7 lone worker protection across a range of devices.
 
“The minute they push the button, everything is recorded, and someone at the end of the line is listening,” explains Watts. “The person won’t say anything until one of my officers speaks to them, in case a member of the public can hear them.” The line is monitored continuously by a fully trained SitexOrbis employee who has a direct line to the police should the situation get out of hand.
 
What has impressed the parking enforcement team most about the panic button feature on the Sonim phones is the quality of the recording—even the police have remarked on its clarity.
 
Since deploying the phones several months ago, Watts has had approximately 10 panic button activations—all of which have been crystal clear. “Before, about 75% of the recording would have been unclear or breaking up,” he says. “We wouldn’t have been able to use them in court.”
 
Currently, one such panic button activation on the XP3 Sentinel resulted in a court trial. While issuing a parking ticket, a CEO endured a 20-minute tirade from a vehicle owner who aggressively confronted her and then attempted to drive away, almost injuring her in the process. The CEO remained calm and activated the panic button, at which point all audio was recorded.
 
The police responded to the scene and arrested the man after discovering that he had several knives in his possession.
 
“Originally, the police were going to charge him with a minor offense, such as disturbing the peace,” says Watts, “but after they got the recording and heard how bad the abuse was, they upgraded the severity of the offense. Now there’s a good chance he could get a custodial sentence rather than a slap on the wrist.”
 
CEOs feel safer armed with phones that are reliable, easy to use, and that won’t run out of power mid-shift. “Before, battery life was getting to the stage where it wouldn’t even last a shift, and they had to take spare batteries with them,” says Watts. “Also, with the old phones you had to press the panic button twice—once to wake it up and then again to activate it. With the new phones, pressing the panic button overrides everything else.”
 
The phones are also equipped with GPS, which tracks CEOs every 15 minutes. “I can log into the SitexOrbis Web site, look at any unit, and find out exactly where they’ve been and when they pressed the alarm,” says Watts.
 
Rugged boosts safety
Prior to implementing the XP3 Sentinels, CEOs also experienced problems with their mobile phones when it rained. “In winter, it was an absolute nightmare,” says Watts. “There was water damage all the time.” As a result, CEOs had to keep their phones in their pockets when it rained, making it difficult to hear them ringing when they had to take a call or muffling the sound of a recording when the panic button was activated. Moreover, accessing the phones in an emergency was stressful because the CEO would have to rummage around in his pocket to find it.
 
Fortunately rainy days no longer hinder access to or use of officers’ phones. The XP3 Sentinel is designed to withstand extreme temperatures and environments, allowing officers to wear them outside their jackets at all times for quick, easy access and clear recordings.
 
While the Sonim phones have proven their worth by improving officer safety as well as the quality of recordings that could serve as evidence in court, Watts has other plans to increase their value. He is hoping to use them to access a cashless parking system, which would allow drivers to pay for parking with credit cards rather than cash at a meter. “We’re looking at incorporating that into the Sonim phones to reduce the amount of equipment CEOs have to carry,” says Watts. Currently, CEOs carry a separate mobile phone to access the cashless parking company’s Web site and verify payments.
 
But for now, CEOs are thrilled to have a rugged mobile device focused on their protection. “When you’re being confronted by someone who’s threatening you or swearing at you, the fact that you’ve got someone on the end of the line listening, able to call the police if need be, gives you that extra peace of mind,” says Watts. “It’s hard to convey how aggressive someone is or their tone of voice when you speak or write about the abuse. But once the jury hears the recording, and they can hear the anger in the person’s voice, it backs up the case a lot more.”

For more case studies spotlighting the impact of field-ready devices, download The Changing Face of Rugged.

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