Emergency Dispatch Service Saves Lives and Money

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South Africa Community Action Network (SA CAN) is South Africa’s first national emergency network. With an average of 18,400 murders and 15,000 car accidents a year, there is great demand for emergency services in this country of 52 million people.

Yet, South Africa has no formal dispatch system like 911 in the U.S. where a control center receives calls and dispatches services directly to the scene of the emergency. Instead, the victim has the burden of contacting the nearest offices for police, fire, ambulance, medical and other emergency services.

The confusing number of service providers made it difficult to locate and contact the right one. As a result, emergency calls were often mishandled, leaving people at the scene of the emergency to wonder if help would arrive in time.


Former policeman Brian Jones created SA CAN in 2003 to provide a centralized solution to the chaotic emergency dispatch process. SA CAN is a “crime prevention organization providing coordination and communication and management of incidents, much like your 911 system in the States,” Jones says.

Working with 88 different governmental and private agencies, the company takes calls, evaluates situations and dispatches emergency services to the scene. SA CAN subscribers dial one number (08-616-SACAN) or use SA CAN’s paid SOS Anything! Anytime! Anywhere! (AAA) button app to get immediate help using its GPS tracking feature.

By 2013, SA CAN grew to 11,600 paid members. SA CAN uses a Robin Hood type financial model, taking profit from its paid memberships to subsidize 33K free members living largely in rural settlements and townships and poorer urban areas.

The organization needed to buy about 100 2-way radios to handle the increased demand. Jones estimated the initial investment would be almost $55K, with monthly running costs for airtime of $2,900. Being a small business with 70 percent devoted to non-profit operations, this was not a feasible solution. Jones started looking for alternatives to 2-way radios.


Jones was familiar with the Zello consumer walkie-talkie app and liked it for personal use. However, the free app was not secure enough for SA CAN’s needs. After learning about Zello for businesses, he liked its security features, ease of use and low implementation cost. Because it didn’t require special hardware, the organization could use the Zello on its existing personal smartphones containing a mix of iOS, Android and Blackberry devices.

The company tested ZelloWork on a 50-user network for three months with great success and canceled the 2-way radio service. SA CAN has used Zello since September 2013 with no down time or problems. “Zello has given us the ability to turn our mobile phones into radios, giving us a common radio network that we didn’t have before,” Jones says.

How Zello Helped

Zello provided the instant communications required for emergency dispatches without the high cost of hardware upgrades. Jones estimates the company has saved $55K in the cost of equipment and $2,450 in monthly usage fees by forgoing 2-way radios. With Zello’s discount for non-profits, SA CAN pays about $450 per month to save 84% per month.

Using ZelloWork allows SA CAN to simultaneously dispatch calls to multiple agencies on a channel. This has reduced response times and improved coordination. Under the old radio system, criminals listened in to avoid the police. Since the network is encrypted and secure, this is no longer an issue.

About SA CAN

Founded by Brian Jones in 2003 with only $100, SA CAN offers free and paid memberships to provide crime prevention and dispatch services to South African residents. All profit is reinvested to create more community resources. Prompting SA CAN’s creation was the tragic death of Jones’ close friend and fellow policeman, Craig Ayliffe, who was shot in the line of duty the day before his 26th birthday. This life changing experience for Jones and his colleagues was the impetus for SA CAN and its mission to protect citizens through community involvement, communications and coordination of emergency services.

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