High-tech dispatch tool will help Ohio county dispatchers track mobile phone users
Software and hardware will be installed at dispatch centers that will give dispatchers immediate location data within 3 feet of the mobile phone being used
The Repository, Canton, Ohio
CANTON, Ohio — A problem emergency dispatchers have encountered for years, one that can delay by crucial minutes the arrival of firefighters, paramedics or police officers to help people in serious trouble, soon could be remedied.
Often when people use their mobile phones to report an emergency — a spouse having a heart attack, a fire or car crash or someone being assaulted — they're not sure of the location. Also important: They don't know the jurisdiction they're in.
Stark County commissioners agreed this week on a contract with an Israel-based company in hopes of solving that problem.
The company is expected to install, by about September, software and hardware at dispatch centers around the county that would give dispatchers immediate location data within 3 feet of the mobile phone being used to make the 911 call, even if it's being made indoors.
Stark County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Warstler and Stark County Sheriff George Maier said the dispatchers' current equipment can give location data that's accurate within about 30 to 90 feet by triangulating the phone's signal with the cellphone towers or GPS data from the phone. In a building, it doesn't indicate which floor the caller is on.
The system also will give the dispatcher the ability to send the caller a text message. If the caller taps the link in the text message, the dispatcher would be able to see any video being captured by the caller's smartphone in real time for the duration of the call.
If the caller is unable to speak or it's not safe to speak, the caller can engage in a typed two-way chat with the dispatcher. Warstler said no app installation on the caller's phone is necessary. The system would only work with a smartphone, not an older flip phone.
The package, which includes training of the dispatchers, is free the first year for a trial period.
If the contract were renewed for a second year, the cost would be $45,000 for the second year for 26 licenses to be distributed to the Stark County Sheriff's Office, Canton police dispatchers, Alliance Police, Minerva Police, North Canton Police, the RED Center and CENCOM. Officials anticipate the Ohio Department of Administrative Services would negotiate by the third year a statewide pricing rate with the company, Carbyne.
Warstler said Stark County would be the ninth jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt the system and first in Ohio. He said 81% of the county's 911 calls come from mobile phones.
Warstler said he began discussions with Carbyne around December after Lisa Flask, who had worked for the county's dispatch equipment vendor, became a regional sales manager for the company. He said he is aware of only one other company offering such capabilities.
Flask did a demonstration for commissioners as Warstler went with his phone outside the commissioners' board room. She sent him a text message with a link that he tapped.
"Here's Tim's location. Gives the (latitude) and (longitude) and the accuracy. And it's also activated his video," she said. "It's actually activated his camera, so he's actually showing us where he's walking. What he's seeing. And we have the chat feature here."
Warstler said, "I think it's one of the biggest game-changers that I've seen to 911 in my career."
Maier said, "if there's a crime in progress and somebody hits that link they can actually video the crime in progress and we can see and capture valuable evidence to help us solve the crime. I think this is a fantastic tool, if you will, for the safety of Stark County."
When asked what safeguards would be put in place to ensure police don't take over the video camera of someone's smartphone without the caller's consent, Maier said his department would come up with policies to guard against law enforcement abuse.
Warstler said dispatch cannot view video from the phone unless the caller taps the link of a text message to provide consent. And that ability to view video by dispatch ends once the call ends.
"We don't take over control over your phone. You give us permission to see that information," he said.
Flask said any location information, chats or video would be uploaded to the cloud, where only law enforcement and emergency responders could view it, not Carbyne. She said it would be next year at the earliest before anyone besides dispatchers — emergency personnel responding to a scene, for example — could see video from a caller's phone in real time. They could it, however, once the call is complete and the video is stored.
"This just takes it to the next level," Commissioner Richard Regula said. "They talk about the next generation of 911. This is it. ... This is awesome."
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