How Singapore is using maps for social services

By Medha Basu

Civil servants, emergency responders and startups share how maps are playing a crucial role to support Singapore’s needy and elderly.

In social and health services, having reliable and timely locations of incidents can be a matter of life and death.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has built the OneMap platform for any agency, citizen or business to get access to and use location data to deliver services more effectively. “There’s a lot of geospatial data being collected through mobile devices, and we act as a ‘horizontal’ to support many of these industry verticals,” Ng Siau Yong, the agency’s Geospatial and Data Director, told GovInsider.

Singapore’s entrepreneurs, civil servants and emergency responders tell GovInsider how they are all using maps to deliver services to Singapore’s needy and elderly citizens.

Tracking dementia patients

One in ten people over 60 have dementia, a study found, and cases of younger dementia patients are on the rise too. SG Enable, an agency that supports people with disabilities, challenged startups to find a way for loved ones to get in touch with patients in an emergency.

One startup came up with an app that alerts users if their elderly relatives fall or get lost, built on OneMap. “Caregivers have an app where they can monitor the whereabouts of their parents using geopositioning,” says Christine Koh, Market Development Director, Spacetime Technology.

Caregivers are alerted if the elderly lose their way and wander away from their usual locations. This is particularly crucial as those with dementia are prone to forgetfulness. “We have set up geofencing - it’s like a safety zone, and if they venture out of the geofence, you are able to receive an alert,” Koh explains.

The project was recently awarded by SLA for its use of geospatial technology. In the future, “our aspiration is to work with the hospitals and healthcare industry in Singapore” to add in health tracking data on the app, Koh says.

Alerting first aiders

The first few moments after a heart attack are critical, as with every passing minute the chances of survival reduce dramatically. “People [experiencing cardiac arrests] have decreased chances of survival by 10% for every minute that we don't get any help,” says Col (Dr) Ng Yih Yng, Chief Medical Officer, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

SCDF worked with SLA to build an app, myResponder, that alerts all trained first-aiders within 400 metres of where a heart attack is reported. Users can provide support in those first crucial moments, before an ambulance arrives.

The app is Dr Ng’s brainchild and is built on top of SLA’s OneMap. The principle behind the app is simple: it shows where the reported case is, where the responders are, and links them up.

When a first aider arrives at the reported location, they can find the closest defibrillator (AED) using myResponder’s map. SCDF works with the Singapore Heart Foundation to map the AEDs, Dr Ng says. Members of the foundation also routinely check the devices to ensure they are working. “All these things are sitting within OneMap and we work [with] it as a complete system,” he adds.

Dr Ng’s team has also partnered with a taxi company to install defibrillators in 100 cabs. “Taxi drivers have a special version of the app”, says Dr Ng. When they are not ferrying passengers, myResponder alerts them to nearby heart attack reports where defibrillators are needed.

“They have a much larger driving radius to bring the AED to the [location of the] incident,” Dr Ng says.

Locating social service offices

Locating social service offices in the right place can ensure that low-income families have easy and quicker access to support in times of a crisis.

The SLA team has used maps to help the Ministry of Social and Family Development find the best locations for social service offices in neighbourhoods. “You want them to be somewhere that's easy and convenient to travel to. These are things where you can apply geospatial analytics,” explains Lewis Wu, the Senior Deputy Director of Geospatial Systems at SLA.
SLA used data from the Housing Development Board on the demographics of people living in those areas and public transport data to locate offices with the shortest possible travelling times, Wu adds.

The next time you use a map might be to find a new restaurant or get to your next meeting. But for these Singaporeans, location is essential to respond in time to a lost dementia patient, someone having a heart attack or a person in a financial crisis.