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AI-mergency Control Room (AICR), understanding and consolidating requests for help with Watson. A Call for Code project from IBM.


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AI-mergency Control Room (AICR), understanding and consolidating requests for help with Watson

IBMers Alexander Lang and Tim Reiser talk about their Call For Code entry, AI-mergency, harnessing artifical intelligence and natural language processing to quickly process and map call center activity to more successfully deploy rescue operations.

Blog: Helping dispatchers deploy rescue teams faster


What it does

Human dispatchers are key to an efficient emergency response. The goal of AI-mergency control room (AICR) is to ensure dispatchers stay productive during emergencies. AICR is a web application that supports the dispatcher during the complete workflow of handling an emergency:

  1. AICR automatically transcribes incoming emergency calls.
  2. While the dispatcher talks to the caller, AICR extracts key information in real time, which the dispatcher can easily edit or enhance:
    1. Where is the emergency?
    2. What has happened?
    3. How many lives are in danger?
  3. AICR maps the extracted emergency address information to precise latitude/longitude coordinates for better routing of rescue teams.
  4. AICR matches the call to existing emergencies, to help the dispatcher identify whether the call refers to a new incident or is talking about an already known emergency.
  5. AICR prioritizes the emergency across all other emergencies, based on the extracted information. This prioritization can of course be changed by the dispatcher.
  6. AICR shows the emergency on a map, in context of other incidents, to help the dispatcher check for rescue teams that are already deployed in the area, and to see emerging hotspots.
  7. AICR stores all emergencies and call transcripts in a database to provide full visibility and traceability of the events during and after a disaster.

This way, AICR prevents “dispatcher fatigue”, and allows less-skilled dispatchers that are brought into the disaster area to become productive more rapidly.

How it is done

Architecture Overview

AICR is a web app that uses a variety of cloud services to perform its core functions. Below is an overview of the app with the various cloud services called out where they are being used.

Overview of the app with components

Below is a more abstract overview of the AICR components, and how they interact with each other.

A more abstract overview of the various components and how they interact

Component Details

Overall server-side orchestration: Node.js

The server side of the app runs in Node.js. This is a relatively thin layer that routes the various requests from the client to the respective cloud services. The most complex part is the interaction between the client and the speech-to-text service, and the client and the natural language understanding service. Since this is a two-way, asynchronous communication, we employ a websocket.

The client side: React

The browser app uses the React Javascript library to build an interactive application. In addition to React, we use a small number of other libraries. For styling, we use plain CSS (without any kind of preprocessor).

Call Transcription: Google Speech / Watson Speech to Text

We stream two parallel audio channels to the Google Speech API, one for the caller and one for the dispatcher. The API returns interim results with a provisional transcript of the latest input. It also returns final results for blocks of speech (separated by silence), even before the call ends. The results also include inferred punctuation.

We use a speech model specifically trained on phone calls and provide the model with some contextual information (e.g. location names from within the county limits). At first, we integrated the IBM Watson Speech to Text service. We spent considerable effort on training both a speech and a language model. However, we did not manage to get recognition quality to a point that was good enough for our purposes. It has to be noted though that the sound quality of these pre-recorded calls is very low. When using a microphone directly, the Watson Speech service performs quite well. We expect that in a real life scenario, we would get similarly good results. We have reached out to the Watson team, and want to switch back to that service as soon as possible.

Emergency Incident Storage: Db2

The Db2 database holds information about incoming calls, incidents and response teams. The database layout is more comprehensive than what was required for the demo. This is because we are planning to show more incident status information via Cognos (see information about the embedded Cognos dashboard below).

Information Extraction from Transcripts: Watson Natural Language Understanding and Watson Knowledge Studio

We built a custom model in Watson Knowledge Studio that extracts entities relevant to the domain of natural disasters. Mentions of persons, addresses, and incident details are extracted using dictionaries, regular expressions and rules, which can be found here. The model is deployed to the Watson Natural Language Understanding service and accessed via its Javascript API.

Address to Latitude/Longitude Translation: Mapbox Geocoding

The Mapbox Geocoding API takes an address as input and returns its coordinates as well as a standardized representation of the address. We seed the API with the coordinates of the Howard County police station, based in Ellicott City, Md. This way, our address translation works well, even for addresses that don't contain any city name, like 8141 Main Street, because they're resolved based on proximity to the police station.

Map Representation: Cognos Dashboard Embedded

We have created a custom report in Cognos that contains the map, reading the data from the incidents stored in DB2. Using Cognos Dashboard Embedded will allow us to overlay additional information in the future, such as areas of likely flooding and the position of emergency response teams. We also plan to include additional aggregated information as Cognos charts, such as the trend of open emergencies over time.

Try it out

Using the AI-mergency control room on IBM Cloud

Please note: all instances of the app use a single database in the background, just as in real life. This means that any time anyone runs the demo, they will add the same incident to the DB, and the demo will not work properly for the next person. For that reason, there is a Reset Demo Database button at the bottom of the screen. As you would expect, this resets the database to its original state. If when you start the demo, the top incident is for 8141 Main Street, you should press the reset button so the demo works properly for you. If you have run the demo yourself, and would like to run it again, please click the button and also reload the page. When you reload the page, the buttons for accepting the recorded phone calls will reappear.

  1. Go to
  2. Under Incoming Calls, click on the first call (number 239-698-1283)
  3. Listen to the call, and observe how transcript and incident info get created.
  4. Observe that a new marker is added to the map. To see the map completely, click the Map tab at the top of the screen.
  5. Once the call has ended, it is removed from the call list.
  6. Under Incoming Calls, click on the next call, which is now the first in the list of incoming calls (number 060-044-0994)
  7. Once the caller address is recognized, you can elect to merge this call with the previous one or you can keep it separate by clicking Cancel.
  8. Press the Reset Demo Database button at the bottom of the screen.

Running the AI-mergency control room locally

  1. Clone the repository.
  2. Follow the instructions below to to create your own instances of the required services.
  3. Ensure that you have npm installed and that you are using node in version 8.
  4. Navigate to the repository's node_app directory and run npm install. This will take a while.
  5. Start the app with npm start.
  6. Use your browser to navigate to localhost:3000 and try the app. Don't forget to enable sound!
  7. The database tables have to be created initally. To do that:
    • locate the file setupDb.js
    • in the exports.reset method, uncomment the dropTable calls
    • restart your app
    • click the button Reset Demo Database below the call panel
    • reactivate the dropTable calls

Known Limitations

  • The Map is removed right now, because we have not yet found a good way to share its definition.
  • Natural Language understanding used a customized model. We have yet to figure out how to share it. Hence NLU is perfoming less great than in our demo.

Creating the required service instances

Db2 / Watson Natural Language Understanding / Cognos Dashboard Embedded

  1. Go to and sign-in or create a new cloud account.
  2. Click Create resource to create instances of the following services:
    1. Db2 Lite
    2. IBM Cognos Dashboard Embedded
    3. Natural Language Understanding
  3. For each service instance, go to Service credentials and click New credential to get your service credentials. Enter the required credentials in the corresponding configuration file:
    1. node_app/db-credentials.json: connectionString = ssldsn from json creds
    2. node_app/daas-credentials.json username = client_id password = client_secret url= api_endpoint_url`
    3. node_app/nlu-credentials.json: You have to add version. Something like: "2018-11-16" is expected. It is easiest to copy and execute the sample API call from you service's start page.

Mapbox Geocoding

Go to and sign-up to get an access token. Enter your access token in the Mapbox configuration filenode_app/pulic/scripts/mapbox-credentials.json.

Google Speech

Go to and follow the Quickstart guide to get your credentials for Google Cloud Speech-to-Text. Enter your credentials in the Google Speech configuration file node_app/google-speech-credentials.json. You need to enable Data Logging for the Google Speech API!

Keeping Secrets

Please do not commit any files that contain secrets. This includes API-Keys, Tokens etc.. All the JSON files that are named {someService}-credentials.json in this repo are merely templates. Do not check in your versions!


AI-mergency Control Room (AICR), understanding and consolidating requests for help with Watson. A Call for Code project from IBM.