Tel – Emergency wins Rep. Lauren Underwood’s 2021 Congressional App Challenge in Illinois’s 14th District

Rep. Lauren Underwood has named Jensen Coonradt from Oswego East High School as the winner of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in Illinois’s 14th District.


When asked what inspired the creation of Tel – Emergency, the student said, “This year my family had a house fire, and we immediately called 911. We believed that a fire crew would be at our house within minutes because we live within walking distance from our local fire station. Despite the station’s proximity to our house, it took 20 minutes for the fire crew to finally arrive. This 20-minute wait not only allowed the fire to cause substantial damage but also made it far more dangerous for the fire crew, when they finally arrived at our house to help stop the fire. The fire battalion chief told us that longer waits for emergency assistance are a problem in our community due to incorrect routing of cellular calls. 

Our Alderman, Mr Edward Bugg, said that this was a huge concern to him, for the safety of our community and he explained more about this issue. I learned that 911 uses a caller’s location to forward calls to the caller’s local emergency department. Previously, emergency services gathered this location information through people calling them from landline phones. Now that more people use cellular phones, it is far more challenging to route calls to the correct local emergency departments, increasing wait times for emergency assistance. Our call, like many others, was rerouted to another city’s emergency station, wasting precious time.  This issue with emergency services inspired me to do more research into problems with receiving emergency assistance. 

I learned that another issue, besides rerouting calls incorrectly, is that many operators struggle to aid people who do not speak English and often need to put them on hold while the operator searches for a translator. I even read an article about how one woman had to wait OVER AN HOUR for a translator. Long waits can be caused by operators not knowing what language the caller is speaking-in and thus, not knowing which type of language translator is needed. Also, people with hearing issues can struggle to hear emergency operators. This makes receiving help from operators far more challenging for the hearing-impaired. 

After finding these problems with people receiving emergency help, I embarked to develop an app to alleviate them because I believe that timely emergency help should be accessible for everyone.”

The 2021 Congressional App Challenge yielded 2,101 fully functioning apps. After eighteen months of disruptions to educational cadences for students everywhere, the Congressional App Challenge came roaring back with 7,174 students registering for this year’s competition. All told, 340 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in their districts across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, theCoderSchool, Facebook, Replit, Accenture, and others.

The 2022 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2022, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.