A number of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. are utilizing a new technology that could improve security for the public and give law enforcement better information when responding to critical incidents such as mass shootings.
Prepared Live provides 911 operators and first responders with access to live video, photos, GPS locations and the ability to text with callers. When cell phone users call 911, dispatchers use their judgment and training to decide whether using the program is necessary. If it is, callers are notified by text or call by dispatchers to activate their video.
The technology does not interfere with the 911 phone call itself, so dispatchers can advise callers where they may need to place or point the phone. The video can also be shared with first responders, potentially giving firefighters or officers better intelligence as they respond.
Michael Chime, CEO and a co-founder of Prepared Live, said he started working on the project 4 years ago when he was an undergraduate at Yale. He grew up near of a city that had a mass shooting in 2012 and it deeply affected him. “I was 13 or 14 years old, and I saw how that impacted a really small blue-collar town -- one of those communities where everyone knows everyone,” he said.
The first project the company tackled was building an app allowing schools to use cell phones during emergencies to communicate rather than walkie-talkies or public address systems. He said hundreds of schools across the country implemented the service, but most of the data collected by the app wasn’t accessible by 911. The majority of calls to 911 today are from mobile devices, but many dispatch systems in use now were built for landlines.
“There’s 250 million 911 calls every year, and if 80% of them are coming from mobile devices we're talking about hundreds of millions of outcomes every year. Lifesaving data was left on the table and we set out to solve that,” Chime said.
With the increased threat environment affecting hospitals, schools and other critical infrastructure, Chime sees the technology as coming at the right time, when law enforcement is struggling with manpower and recruitment challenges. “It’s going to help communities be a lot safer,” he said.
April Heinze, ENP, a staff member at the National Emergency Number Association, told Sripps News earlier this year that multiple third-party vendors offer the livestreaming video service. Heinze said it’s been available for about two years and a growing number of the 5,800 centers across the country are adopting it.
In Oklahoma, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the state to implement the technology.
The TCSO deputies patrol unincorporated areas, which collectively have a population of at least 35,000 people spread out over 587 square miles. Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado told reporters at a press conference Thursday that the technology could help officers in a host of situations by allowing for better intelligence.
“This gives dispatchers immediate eyes on scene and enables them to communicate with callers in ways that we have never done before. Our dispatchers can use live video to verify and understand the type and severity of an ongoing emergency rather than relying on caller descriptions.”
Regalado said the technology is “extremely valuable” for instances when a caller’s witnessing an assault. Once the caller clicks on the text link the sheriff’s office sends to them, dispatchers can utilize the caller’s cell phone camera to see what’s happening in real time.
TCSO is using the technology daily for 911 hangup calls and accidental 911 calls, which have been on the rise due to the design of iPhones and Apple Watches, Regalado said. He estimates there are 15 to 20 of those calls per shift to the county’s dispatch center.
“When we receive these, we follow up by calling back to determine if someone needs help, in addition to calling people back,” Regalado said.
The text callers would receive in that situation would say, “We received a call from this number. If you need assistance, please dial 911 or respond to this text. If this is not an emergency, please call our non-emergency number (918) 596-5600 or respond to this text. Law enforcement is currently responding to your location.”
“It’s imperative that our citizens know that if you receive this text from us asking you to call or text us back, it really is the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office,” Regalado said. “The quicker we’re able to determine that a call was accidental, the quicker our dispatchers and deputies can clear that call.”
The technology has already been useful in some cases, he said, such as large-scale fights and domestic assaults. It could come in handy to help someone who might be lost in a large park.
In active shooter incidents, through the live streaming “we potentially know what part of the school or business this is happening at. We may have a glimpse or video of the assailant. And we may have an idea of how many people are in the structure,” Regalado added. “I don't know that we've actually tapped into what full capability is, but we’re slowly moving that way.”
John Dobberstein is managing editor of SecurityInfoWatch.com and oversees all content creation for the website. Dobberstein continues a 34-year decorated journalism career that has included stops at a variety of newspapers and B2B magazines.