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Georgia County Adds Video Livestream to 911 Calls

In Whitfield County, 911 callers using smartphones now have the option to livestream video or send multimedia information like photographs to dispatchers at the county's 911 center.

(TNS) — In Whitfield County, 911 callers using smartphones now have the option to livestream video or send multimedia information like photographs to dispatchers at the county's 911 center.

David Metcalf, the county's 911/Emergency Management Agency director, said in a statement county officials wanted to give people more options when using 911.

"We wanted a different way for the citizens to talk to 911, and this way we can communicate real-time information that we can share with responders," Metcalf said. "This is the next generation of 911, and I always want to stay in front of that curve."

Participation in the livestream video option is voluntary, county officials said. If a Whitfield County 911 caller consents, the dispatcher will send a text that allows the caller to activate a live video stream with a single click.

The county said in the statement the video call function doesn't give access to the contents or settings of the caller's phone.

The service is provided without charge to the county by a New York-based company called Prepared, county officials said. Since the product launched in 2021, Prepare 911 has been adopted by agencies in 48 states, the county said. Prepared was founded in 2019.

Metcalf said the service is a good addition to any municipality's 911 service — and the service is free to the local governments.

The company is funded by venture capital and other investors, Josh Keeler, Prepare's marketing lead, said in a phone call. He said the company received a $9.8 million from investors in April of 2022.

The company started because its founders lived in communities near school shootings, he said, so they built an app that would allow teachers to quickly contact first responders and school officials. Soon, Keeler said, the company pivoted to the current service when the founders realized there was room for technological improvement to the country's 911 centers.

The new features went live in Whitfield County on Wednesday after 20 weeks of testing, Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen said in a phone call. Training was minimal, he said, because there were only a few new features added to the county's 911 system.

Jensen said the video livestreaming feature was used Friday night at a house fire, and he said the video gave first responders a jump on how the Whitfield County Fire Department should respond.

Staying up to date on technology that will benefit residents is a priority, he said, noting as a point of pride that while Hamilton County implemented text-to-911 last month, Whitfield County added that service in 2017.

The county's 911 system already gave dispatchers the 911 caller's location, but he said the video livestream can give more precise details about where the caller is and the kind of emergency they're experiencing.

"They're excited, they're concerned, whatever this emergency is, they're not used to going through that," Jensen said of 911 callers. "But our 911 operators are trained for these kind of emergencies."

With the new option, callers can turn on the camera, and the operator can see exactly where the situation is and get more information than the callers, who a lot of times have a hard time expressing themselves, would normally give, Jensen said.

Some Whitfield County residents speak multiple languages, and while the county has dispatchers who speak Spanish, sometimes a video can tell the story better than 911 callers who are in distress or aren't comfortable speaking English, Jensen said.

It's only a matter of time before the video livestream feature will be used to help diagnose and treat a person in an emergency, he said. Dispatchers aren't doctors, Jenson said, but dispatchers do provide instruction on first aid until paramedics arrive on the scene.

© 2023 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.