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Ohio dispatch center trials 911 system that streams live video

Officials said the 911eye system will equip first responders with important details about a scene, such as the color of smoke or severity of a car crash


Rhodes Walter, director of the WARCOG dispatch center, shows how 911eye allows first responders and dispatchers to view an emergency scene before arriving to help better prepare them to respond.

Photo/Wooster Daily Record, Mike Schenk

Samantha Ickes
The Repository, Canton, Ohio

ASHLAND, Ohio — As Ashland Fire Chief Rick Anderson watched a firefighter walk the perimeter of a building fire during training, he could see in real time what the firefighter was seeing through a live video stream.

Anderson could tell the color of the smoke and pinpoint the area of the house from where it appeared to be emitting. By viewing the live feed, Anderson knew if the structure was a single-family unit and if it had multiple stories. All important information for firefighters to know for an expeditious response.

During a training burn at a structure behind the Ashland University stadium Aug. 20, Anderson was able to test the new 911 technology, called 911eye, that allows callers to stream live video and send photos to dispatchers and first responders.

The Wooster-Ashland Regional Council of Governments was the fourth dispatch center to receive the 911 tool, which has been in use by first responders in the United Kingdom for six years. Rhodes Walter, director of the dispatch center, said the agency had a “soft trial” of the product to allow for training dispatchers and demonstrating the technology to area chiefs. The official 30-day trial period began Monday.

“People are seeing the advantage of having it,” Walter said. "... I’m excited to see us continue to use it and discover new possibilities for it beyond what the creators imagined.”

How it works

WARCOG was able to obtain an early trial of 911eye through a partnership with Critical Response Group Inc.

The software allows a dispatcher to send a link — with the permission of the caller — to the caller’s cellphone via an SMS text message or an email address, according to the 911eye website. Clicking the URL link enables a secure, one-time-use communication corridor between the caller and the dispatcher. The link allows the caller to activate a live stream, send a photo and chat with the dispatcher.

The dispatcher can then share the stream with the responding agency, Walter explained.

The software also shares the GPS coordinates with the dispatcher, he said. Before 911eye, a triangular system was used to pinpoint the location between three cellphone towers. That method had an accuracy of roughly 5,000 meters, Walter said, adding 911eye is accurate to within 5 meters.

For example, Walter said, a woman passing through the Wooster area blew a tire and was unsure where she was located. The 911eye was able to send dispatchers the woman’s location, and she utilized the live video feature to show dispatchers her surroundings. Landmarks like bridges and buildings can be beneficial to finding a caller when they are unsure of their exact location, Walter explained.

After the trial period ends for 911eye, there will be an opportunity to purchase the software. Three to four dispatchers are answering calls at any given time, Walter said. For a center of its size, there is an initial fee of $2,300 and then an annual cost of $6,200.

User friendly

As an 18-year-old fresh out of high school joining the fire department in 1980, Orrville Fire Chief Chris Bishop couldn’t have imagined this kind of technology being available to firefighters today.

"(Callers) don’t have to worry about anything,” Bishop said. “All they have to do is press the link and it goes. It’s very user friendly.”

Videos, photos and chats are saved for 30 days on the database, Walter said, adding agencies can download the videos and images to include in reports as evidence. Chats are between the dispatcher and the caller and are not visible to first responders, he said.

The database is secure and cloud-based that meets the security standards for the FBI, Walter said.

Once the session has ended, he explained, the link dies and cannot be accessed again by either party.

“We don’t want there to be hesitation or fear of your private information being shared,” Walter said.

Support from agencies

When it comes to emergency situations, having as much information as possible is beneficial for responding agencies to be able to react as quickly as possible once arriving at the scene.

For law enforcement, those moments between the call and when police arrive are often the most critical, Orrville Police Chief Matt Birkbeck said.

The feature is especially helpful if there are no third-party witnesses, he said.

Sometimes when a caller is directly involved in the incident he or she can experience tunnel vision due to adrenaline and being in a high-stress situation, he said. A live video can potentially give dispatchers a better description of the suspect or show officers which direction the suspect fled, Birkbeck said.

“Those moments before the police arrive on scene are often the most critical moments in determining what exactly happened and who was involved,” he said. "... This will give us an opportunity for someone in a calmer mindset to discern what those are. All of those things will be a tremendous benefit.”

On the fire side, Anderson said, it can show important information such as if flames are visible, how far along the fire is, what color the smoke is and if a rescue is needed. This can help the fire department ensure they have enough resources and know where to target those resources upon arrival, he said.

On the EMS side, a video feed or photos can show the potential number of patients and the severity of the situation, Anderson explained. He used a car crash as an example. Utilizing 911eye can show how many cars are involved, how severe the damage is and the number of patients, he said.


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