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New Tech Boosts 911 Effectiveness for Kansas Community

Barton County Communications Director Dena Popp is almost giddy when she boasts about the host of new tools available to 911 dispatchers, which better enable them to help first responders get to callers in need.

(TNS) — Barton County Communications Director Dena Popp is almost giddy when she boasts about the host of new tools available to 911 dispatchers, all of which better enable them to help first responders get to callers in need.

"I'm pretty excited about some of the new technology," she said Tuesday afternoon, standing in the middle of the 911 office lined with banks of monitors manned by two of her staff. "There are a lot of new ways for us to find those who may not know their location."

She was referring to a new video call option, the "What3Words" cell phone app that can pinpoint a location within 10 feet and the Text to 911.

Now, they want to get the word out, while allaying any public concerns over use of the tech.

"There may be some skepticism," Popp said. Some may fear government intrusion and see privacy issues.

But, "this is all pretty exciting," she said. These features open up 911 more users and will give law enforcement and safety personnel a better idea of what they are getting into.

She ran through the new options:


The developers of this free app have divided the world into a 10x10-foot grid, and each square is assigned a unique three-word combination, Popp said. "This means that every park bench, parking space, pitch on a campsite, and remote spot on a hiking trail has its own What3Words address."

So, a caller can open the app (which works offline as well) and give the dispatcher the three words, she said. "It maps it within 10 feet, that's pretty good."

She stressed that the app doesn't track or store users' data. And, there is no advertising.

"It's not just for 911," she said. Anyone can use it to share their location.

Barton County has had access to this since April, but were undergoing training, They went live with it in May.

—Video calls.

"The video is going to help the dispatcher paint a picture for the first responders," Popp said. The caller can use the video feed to pan the area so responders know what resources to send and what to expect upon arrival.

It is also good for someone who has no other way to communicate what is happening, she said.

But, she said, Communications can't just open someone's camera. A caller has to call 911 and request a video call, then 911 will text them access link followed a text with an activation link.

"The caller is in complete control," she said. "They can end the call (and link) at any time."

And, this is not meant for routine 911 contacts, she said. "We want this for priority calls."

All videos are stored for six months at the state level by the system developer RapidDeploy, she said. First responders can access these videos, but have to go through Popp's office.

She has to go through the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council which in turn contacts RapidDeploy.

There are some sticky unresolved legal issues, such as who owns the videos and who should have access to them, she said. They anticipate law enforcement wanting them, but attorneys and the media may have interests as well.

There is also the chance that some of the videos could contain graphic material, she said. The department is cognizant of staff members who may have post-traumatic stress disorder that could be triggered by such calls, and route the calls to other dispatchers.

This has also been available locally since May, but it has not been utilized yet,

"It is a huge resource," Popp said.

—Text to 911.

This has actually been in place since 2020, Popp said. But, it has been enhanced.

"It is the ability to send a text message to 911 from your mobile phone or device," she said. But, since voice calls provide more information, callers should only text when they can't talk.

"Call if you can, text if you can't, that's the key," she said. Say someone is deaf or in danger, such as a domestic violence incident, a text message may be a good option.

Once 911 answers a text, a communication thread begins, she said. This remains open until the caller ends the call.

While a person's location can be determined from a text, "location services are not always accurate," she said.

The system also doesn't accept group messages, photos or emojis.

Text messages are stored locally and can be accessed locally, she said.

© 2023 Great Bend Tribune, Kan. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.