If you’re speeding along a road in an unfamiliar area and experience a crash, a new 911 system add-on can give Stark County dispatchers your exact location.
The Stark County Sheriff’s Office said its new software by Israel-based Carbyne went into use on Aug. 30, a few days after it was installed.
They demonstrated the system Thursday in the dispatch center at the Stark County Jail. A sheriff’s deputy in Nimishillen Township who apprehended a trespassing suspect streamed video from his phone of a rural property to the dispatcher. His location was shown as a blue dot on a Google Earth satellite image on the dispatcher’s screen.
In an emergency, a dispatcher can send 911 callers with an iPhone or Android smartphone a text message with a link. Once the caller clicks the link, it temporarily gives the dispatcher access to the smartphone’s location.
The caller does not have to have an app pre-installed on their phone.
Without the new feature, the 911 system can still narrow your location but with less accuracy.
The caller can also turn on their video camera, and the dispatcher can stream the video live from the phone and store it as evidence. The caller by tapping on their phone’s touchscreen keyboard can also engage in a silent, live chat with the dispatcher to avoid making noises that could attract the attention of a perpetrator.
“Quite simply put, it’s an opportunity for us for our dispatch centers to speak like Facetime, Skyping to speak with the emergency caller,” said Stark County Sheriff George Maier, who added that Stark County is the first county in Ohio and ninth jurisdiction in the country to use the new system.
“We all know that in an emergency, seconds count,” he said. “If we can reduce that time frame that we get first responders to the emergency … if we give them, first responders, additional information like pinpointing exactly where they are within a few feet rather than a few hundred yards or a half mile, we’re doing a better job of serving our community.”
He said it has been installed at all seven dispatch centers in the county, which includes the sheriff’s office, Canton, Alliance, Minerva, North Canton, the Regional Emergency Dispatch Center, CENCOM and Perry Township. And all dispatchers have been trained to use the Carbyne add-on.
Tim Warstler, director of the Stark County Emergency Management Agency, called it a “real game changer” and “as cutting edge as you can be.”
“It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve seen come to the 911 centers in the last decade,” he said. “The fact that you’ll be able to see what’s going on, gain location data that’s even more accurate. … It’s just dynamic the information will be there that we haven’t been provided in the past. And for somebody that truly doesn’t know where they’re at, this now is just one more tool that may be able to help to locate them in a more timely manner.”
Already in use
North Canton Police Lt. Doug Cardwell said his department used the video streaming twice in a week. A caller reported their vehicle was being stolen and streamed the video to the dispatcher. The dispatcher was able to spot the name of a business on the tow truck, indicating the vehicle was being repossessed. Another caller who reported an intruder video streamed an image of what turned out to be a family member entering the home.
Under the two-year contract with Carbyne, the county gets to try the system for free the first year and would pay $45,000 to use it the second year.
Officials say the software does not allow the dispatcher or law enforcement officers to access anything else on the phone. And once the sessions is ended by the caller or dispatcher, they can no longer receive information from the phone unless the caller clicks on a new link in a later text message.
“Once that connection is completed we are done,” said Communications Supervisor Terry Curry. “We cannot go back and access your phone.”
Currently, the system does not allow officers in the field to see the callers’ streamed video in real time. And the video stream is slightly laggy. The system only works if the caller has a smartphone with a battery charge that’s connected to the internet through WiFi or the cellular network. The phone’s location services feature has to be toggled on, and the browser’s cellular connection has to be on if the phone is not connected to WiFi. The location feature also may have a difficult time pinpointing which floor a caller is on in a multi-story building.
But Curry said about the system’s current features, “who thought this was possible three or four years ago?”