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New Uber Feature Allows Cambridge Residents to Better Access 911

Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. spoke at an press conference in 2018.

Cambridge residents riding with Uber can now take advantage of an enhanced security feature built into the application to improve emergency response.

The feature, called “911 Assistance,” enables passengers to call 911 swifely through Uber’s new Safety Toolkit — which riders can access by tapping the security icon on the bottom right of the screen without having to exit the app.

Cambridge emergency responders can now also access trip details, including vehicle information, precise location updates, and private information — such as medical history and emergency contacts — that Uber riders can provide in advance by creating an online user profile via an external application, according to the Cambridge Police website . Cambridge is the second city in Massachusetts to adopt this feature.

Director of Communications and Media Relations for Cambridge Police Department Jeremy Warnick wrote in an email that the emergency assistance program will benefit community members.

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“Every second counts in an emergency, and these new updates will help ensure those living, working and visiting Cambridge get help quickly with accurate information if faced with an emergency situation,” he wrote.

Warnick highlighted the feature’s subtlety, writing that “these new enhancements enable passengers to be able to share extensive details with Emergency Dispatchers without drawing attention to Uber drivers.” He said users do not need to speak with a dispatcher for assistance.

Michael Martin — an alum of Harvard Business School — co-founded RapidSOS, a venture-backed company focusing on providing emergency response data. RapidSOS partnered with Uber to work on the 911 dispatch program. Martin wrote in an email that he created the company after finding himself in an emergency situation.

“In that moment I realized just how hard it is to get out your phone, dial a number, and have a coherent conversation in the middle of an emergency,” he wrote. “911 often doesn’t even know your name or your location when you call.”

During his time at HBS, Martin worked with first responders and the Emergency Communications Department in Cambridge to modernize 911 calling.

Some Harvard students using Uber said they welcome the enhanced security feature.

Morgan L. Whitten ’21 said that she has felt uncomfortable during Uber rides.

“It turned out alright, but it’s nice knowing that if something was wrong, I would have this feature to keep me safe,” she said.

Clarification: Feb. 11, 2019

A previous version of this article stated that Cambridge emergency responders could access trip details and private information that Uber riders provided in advance through an online profile. To clarify, Uber riders provide this information through an external application.

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at ema.schumer@thecrimson.com.

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