Jackson County 911 callers can now utilize video for improved assistance


Above: Dispatchers take calls at Jackson County Central Dispatch.

Jackson County Central Dispatch keeping up with technology

By Julie Riddle

JACKSON ― Jackson County residents experiencing an emergency have one more way to get help fast, thanks to new technology just launched at Jackson County Central Dispatch.

Prepared Live, a program provided free to emergency communications centers, allows dispatchers to share a link that gives them access to live video from callers’ cell phones. Images and video transmitted immediately from the scene of an emergency gives dispatchers an edge and allows responders to show up knowing what to expect and with a plan to address it.

The program, which has been cropping up increasingly in dispatch centers around the nation in the past year, could be a game changer in keeping residents safe, said Jason Hamman, director of Jackson County Central Dispatch.

The new-to-Jackson technology piggybacks on tech already embedded in most people’s lives via the devices in their pockets. While some such information, in everyday life, can worry people concerned about too much information-sharing invading their privacy, when an emergency crops up, they don’t hesitate to call 911 and use every means to share their location, Hamman said.

“They want you to find them. They want help,” Hamman said. The new program adds one more option for getting emergency response to people who need it. And, he said, “If you can have help to better locate you, why not do it?”

Initially developed as a tool to help school employees share digital information in the event of a school shooting, Prepared Live has expanded to allow emergency responders to tap into the ready availability of photos and video already shared online, including in times of crisis.

With 86% of Jackson County’s 220,000 calls to 911 each year now made on cell phones, residents already accustomed to the idea of livestreaming from their phones will find it an easy transition to share that digital information with dispatchers, Hamman said.

Above: Jason Hamman, director of Jackson County Central Dispatch, demonstrates a live feed from a cell phone to computer at Central Dispatch. With the help of newly launched program Prepared Live, dispatchers can use a caller’s camera to see the caller’s surroundings.

Elsewhere, Prepared Live has been used to give responders a firsthand view of fires, car crash scenes, heart attacks, and domestic violence scenarios. It helps dispatchers know who to send, what tools they will need, and what to tell them to expect when they arrive.

When a dispatcher believes it appropriate, they will send the caller a text message containing a link. The caller does not have to download an app and controls whether to click the link and let the dispatcher take temporary control of their camera.

Once the dispatcher connects to the caller’s phone, a map automatically pops up on the dispatcher’s computer showing the caller’s location, and the dispatcher’s monitor displays whatever is visible from the caller’s phone.

The service will, among other uses, help emergency responders find people who need help but don’t know where they are, Hamman said.

A babysitter in an unfamiliar house, someone out for a walk and experiencing health concerns, or a boater uncertain which side of a lake they’re on could hold up their phone and show a dispatcher their surroundings. Even with an older or unreliable phone more difficult to find using a GPS service, the images they show could help a dispatcher get a responder to them quickly, Hamman said.

For now, Jackson County dispatchers will primarily use Prepared Live as a location tool. Hamman will hold off on full use of the video streaming capabilities until he has ensured his dispatchers will have help processing what they may see if they are exposed to video from traumatic calls.

Already, dispatchers know too well the trauma of listening to other people’s worse moments. Physically seeing it could be more than they are ready to handle, Hamman said. When he is ready to expand the video service to use in other kinds of calls, dispatchers will be able to blur their screen to avoid seeing some images, though those images will still be preserved in unblurred format. Dispatchers can also stop video images from showing on the phone of the caller to help callers livestream undetected to protect their own safety.

Dispatchers can text with callers while the video displays, another way to share information safely and in real time.

Technology to improve 911 services has advanced rapidly in recent years. “Our job is to keep up with it,” Hamman said. “Which is not cheap sometimes.”

Prepared Live also allows dispatchers to share video and photos with police, fire, and medical responders enroute to the emergency ― but that option is not part of the free version of the program.

Not long ago, the county agreed to pay for a phone upgrade, underway now, that will improve communications between central dispatch ― located in a former day care room at the county building on Lansing Avenue ― and a backup center at the Jackson County Jail.

This month, Hamman will pitch a program that would automate information exchange between emergency medical responders, which would mean rescue departments arriving on scene better knowing what equipment they will need and able to provide an even faster response.

The new program would clearly improve care for residents, but the county has to decide if it can pay for it, Hamman said.

Meanwhile, he’s glad to have the free Prepared Live program, one more tool dispatchers can use to get help where it’s needed, as quickly as possible.

“If it helps one person, that’s all that really matters,” Hamman said. “If it helps 20 people, that’s even better.”

911 by the numbers

Jackson County Central Dispatch emergency calls in 2023, top 15 incident types
Traffic stops: 24,492
Rescue (chest pains, fallen subject, etc.): 19,957
Personal welfare check: 10,144
Disorderly: 7,700
Be on the lookout: 4,487
Crash: 4,359
Domestic: 4,286
Suspicious situation: 3,746
Alarm: 3,331
Shots fired: 611
Crash with injury: 521
Suicidal subject: 467
Suicide: 23
Homicide: 8 (up from 4 in 2022)
Source: Jackson County Central Dispatch


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