April 13, 2024

New Technology Allows 911 Callers To Give Dispatch Access To Phone Camera

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The next time you have an emergency that demands the aid of 911, you may be asked to help dispatchers and first responders by video chatting through your phone. 

A new software being rolled out throughout parts of Colorado now gives 911 dispatchers the ability to access a caller’s cellphone cameras after being given permission by the user. Found first on Sesteel blog post.

LETA 911, an organization that helps organize and oversee dispatch communications throughout Larimer County in northern Colorado, has partnered with a company named Prepared Live, which allows dispatchers to use the video aspect of 911 calls. 

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Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith and his office were among the first to sign up to adopt the software in their dispatch center and begin using it with callers. 

The software has already been used multiple times by the sheriff’s office which has saved money, resources and lives on several calls for help. 

The county recently avoided deploying air support for a fire in the mountains by using Prepared Live. A 911 caller reported a large fire engulfing his home. The caller told dispatch that he feared the fire would begin to spread into the forest and start a wildfire. 

Typically, such a report would result in multiple agencies beginning the response as well as a call for air resources. 

Dispatchers were able to send the man a link where he showed his home on fire. The dispatchers were able to send the live video link out to responding agencies and firefighters who quickly determined the fire was serious but was not large enough to threaten a wildfire. The number of resources were proportionately dialed back and air resources were never called, saving money. 

Jim Scalzo, Emergency Communications Supervisor for LCSO, also recently used the software to help rescue a man who was caught in a dangerous situation in the foothills. 

Jonothan Sherwood, an avid climber, decided to go hiking and climbing in the county west of Fort Collins in August. He attempted a climb that would push his limits.  

“Just being outdoors alone is a great feeling. It is the rush and the feeling of the unknown, it is the adventure,” Sherwood said. “Accomplishing a climb is one of the most satisfying things someone could experience.”

However, he accidentally got himself in a spot where he felt he couldn’t safely get back to his vehicle in a timely manner. 

“I needed to get in contact with search and rescue,” Sherwood said.  

“Being in an area that doesn’t have good cell phone coverage, they hit off of a cell tower down here in Fort Collins,” Scalzo said. 

Scalzo answered Sherwood’s 911 call.

“We had no idea how far up Sherwood was or what the terrain around them was,” Scalzo said.  

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Scalzo was able to text Sherwood a link for Prepared Live. Sherwood was able to accept the terms and conditions in a matter of seconds and quickly his view was being live-streamed back to the sheriff’s office. 

“I had no idea that technology existed. It was a complete surprise to me. A pleasant surprise,” Sherwood said. “I was able to take my phone and scan the surroundings.”

Scalzo was able to then send the link to the live stream to search and rescue professionals who quickly were able to identify exactly where Sherwood was. Thanks to the video they were able to avoid an extended search throughout the open space and instead focus their efforts exactly where Sherwood was. He was quickly rescued from the location and back on his way home. 

“I’m incredibly grateful. It was so easy to use and the accuracy they were able to pinpoint my location with was kind of mind-boggling,” Sherwood said. 

The live feed of the video is ended when the user decides to end the call, and dispatch is unable to access the live cameras again without a new user agreement being made. Also, at this time, the video does not record audio. However, the user can remain on the phone with the dispatcher during the video chat. Users can also upload old videos they already recorded in case the individuals need to upload evidence or a report. 

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office said the tool is limitless and only in its game. Scalzo said they are able to use it on any type of call where the caller can safely use their phone. 

While the county never wants to see a mass shooter event, the service can also be used to help both victims and deputies who are responding. In a hypothetical emergency response to a shooter in a school, those who are able can power up their cameras and give first responders who are rushing to the scene an inside look as to what is going on inside. That would allow the police to quickly see where in the building it was safe, while also showing how they can safely and quickly access people who are hiding or trapped. 

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Scalzo said the new tool now gives dispatchers and law enforcement more clear understanding as to what emergencies they are assisting in. 

“Typically, we are only as good as our caller. But, when we can hear what they are telling us and see video of what they are telling us at the same time, it helps paint a better picture for us,” Scalzo said. “You get the eyes of the caller in the dispatch center, but you also get the eyes of the caller out in the field.”

Scalzo said the days of simply relying on phone calls for 911 dispatch are fading as technology further allows texting and video services. 

“For many years we have heard about next-generation 911. And, now that it is finally here it is a huge reality for us that this is a great tool,” Scalzo said.   

According to those who have already benefited from the tool, the new technology is the future of emergency response. 

“Plain and simple it could save lives,” Sherwood said. 

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