When Technology Serves The People And The People Serve Each Other

In 2013 when the eight-story commercial building Rana Plaza collapsed in Dhaka causing 1,137 deaths, a doctor from California felt that she has a mission there. Jennifer Farrell had been in Bangladesh a year before the accident  providing medical training to doctors,  students, and youth volunteers along with her mentor. When the fatal accident occurred she noticed that the volunteers they had trained responded to the crisis by organizing with each other through social media, in an attempt to provide help to the trapped victims.

A year later in 2014 Farrell returned in Bangladesh and founded Criticalink, a non-profit volunteer-based emergency medical system heavily based on mobile technology that is there to do “more than just train people” as she tells us. In Bangladesh there is no 911 or 112 service number to call when someone needs assistance. As a consequence more than 85% of the car accident victims die on the road before they even make it to the hospital

In a city the size of Dhaka, we would have to train 200,000 people if we wanted to know that someone trained would be around every time an accident happened. That just isn’t practical, so we thought about how we could use mobile technology to bridge this gap” she says and continues explaining how the idea is really implemented.

CriticaLink is built on two components: the volunteer First Responders and the technical platform that connects them. First Responders need to go through training sessions and are certified only after they succeed on written and practical exams. Abu Sufian Plabon, the Head of Recruit and training of CriticaLink comments that almost 2,000 people have already received training with 40 people being trained in each session.

On a second level the link between them is based on a dispatch system where witnesses of road accidents have two possibilities: either call an emergency number (09678787878) or use an innovative, location based mobile application to report the incident. Once an accident has been reported, if it meets the right criteria as Farrell explains “the report will be dispatched to First Responders in the area and the volunteers will receive an SMS or a Push Notification from the application letting them know that someone nearby needs their help”.

The idea is simple and practical but very needed in country where only the last year, 3.600 citizens lost theirs lives on the road. Bangladesh has one of the highest rates in the world of car accidents with more than 85 deaths for every registered 10.000 vehicles. There are many different reasons contributing to this result; from the size and the rapid expansion of the city, to the lack of streets for pedestrian and the weather conditions. 

For these reasons Criticalink is not only about saving lives of accident victims as Farrell says. It is also about “collecting data and information that can be used to help better prevent accidents; to work with the government to analyze the data and figure out why accidents are happening, where they are happening, and what we can do to stop them before they happen”.

The main goal in the end becomes the change of the way citizens behave as drivers and respond to accidents as citizens. Farrell remembers one of the stories that make her believe in the vision and importance of Criticalink. One night she was a witness of an accident when a car driven by teenagers flipped over in a neighborhood in Dhaka. She run to the spot and helped a young girl, badly injured to go out of the car and make it to the hospital. After that she lost trace of her. 

A few months later the same person approached her in an event and thanked her. Farrell did not recognize the girl in the first place. “When I saw her smiling and laughing with her friends, it was such a stark contrast to the way I’d seen her before, with her face and head covered in blood, but I realized what could have been lost that night she was in the accident and how lucky she was to be alive. She was lucky I was there eating dinner, but it shouldn’t be about luck. Everyone should know that if they are injured and need help, someone is on their way.”

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