Response Matters: TTC Emergency Button

I came across this interesting article on CBC news discussing the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) reviewing their emergency push button talk system. My initial reaction to the headline was of course emergency systems should be reviewed. However it was a design flaw in the emergency system that neglected an important element in user experience; feedback.

A couple things that disturbed me from this story:

  • No visual or audible response to the person to know system has been engaged.
  • No visual or audible response to general public that there is an emergency in progress.
  • Sherbourne station only has 4 buttons allocated for response.
  • No Transit Authority guards  were visible on the platform.
  • 20-30 minute response time.

In this day and age, safety and security must be reassured to the general public. We have seen that our transit systems have an important factor to every day life. So what can we do to let good samaritans who jump into action to help others, that the proper backup who are trained for emergency situations are on the way?


Colour codes: Could the push to talk button be illuminated to say orange or yellow? That way the user knows for sure that the button is pressed, and to wait for a confirmation reply. When dispatch control central has been notified,  the push to talk button turns green. 

Sound: Could a vocal announcement or chime be played over the PA system? Could the push to talk control panel have a proximity speaker  so it tells those close by that an emergency has been notified, as well as told to dispatch?

AI Speaker: Could we abandon the push to talk concept and go full AI Smart Speaker powered by Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant?

Scenario: a person has collapsed on the subway platform. They seem to be in medical distress.

A bystander rushes to emergency kiosk. They  pull the emergency cover to engage AI speaker. This prevents accidental deployment by anyone to reduce false alarms.

Bystander: Alexa call “TTC Help”.

TTC Help: “Please state your emergency? / S’il vous plaît indiquer votre urgence?”

Bystander: “A person has collapsed on the platform. They had a medical bracelet stating they suffer from elipesey “.

TTC Help: “Medical assistance has been notified. Please stand by. / L’assistance médicale a été notifiée. Veuillez patienter”

Depending on the situation the AI Speaker could determine to escalate the call to 911 dispatch to assist remotely via speaker. As well if speaker picked up keywords from the conversation such as “bomb threat, gun, fire, explosion, etc.” Fire and police services could also be deployed for assistance.

GPS location: Each emergency kiosk should have their location be known to TTC Security. That way deployment can know where to go within the subway station to address the emergency.

Multiple channel input: If there are four push to talk points within the station, why can they not have their own dedicated lines? If an emergency has been notified, at least all other access points for push to talk should have some kind of illumination, that the system has been deployed.

Just some of the solutions that came to my immediate attention. Where the TTC decides to go with this, I’m very interested to see what they chose.