Part V: Innovations

Chandler (Arizona) Police Department

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Chandler Police/Twitter/Feb. 25, 2020

The Chandler (Arizona) Police Department Emergency Communication Center is evolving from solely the ears of an emergency through tools that bring emergency dispatchers visually to the scene.

Their incremental transition to viewing in real-time complements what they hear not only adds to situational awareness but, also, influences decisions and enhances critical thinking skills.

The tools go beyond texting and pictures sent from the scene. Traffic cameras and livestream videos capture events as they develop.  Applications unique to 911 build on what has worked and how they can be applied in other ways to the advantage of emergency services and the public.

It’s not about the novelty of “new toys” at the dispatch center, said Michelle Potts, Manager, Chandler Police Department’s Emergency Communications Center.

“Philosophically,” Potts said, “we are transitioning into a multichannel environment, capable of accepting reports for emergency services from multiple sources.”

The channels work together to collect evidence of what’s happening, what we’re seeing, closes the gap between asking, “Okay, tell me exactly what happened” and assessing the situation” based on the caller’s description and cues picked up from the background.

Take, for example, traffic monitoring cameras at busy intersections in Chandler. Unlike red light cameras, the traffic cameras provide a livestream of the daily commute that determines adjustments to improve traffic flow. More importantly to 911 dispatchers and law enforcement, the cameras give a bird’s eye view that assists response during a traffic problem.

“We can use the cameras to help determine severity of traffic collisions or to see where roads are blocked to assist officers,” Potts said. “They know which direction to approach from for a faster response.”

A situation outside traffic further proved the value of monitoring cameras to dispatch. A third party (security) called regarding a report that someone was threatening to jump from a crane. Since security still could not describe which crane, the communications team pulled up the traffic cameras, located the specific crane for sending responders.

“The win was that we were able to use supplemental technology to find a community member in crisis and direct first responders to him when the traditional approach did not work,” Potts said.

A situation outside traffic further proved the value of monitoring cameras to dispatch. A third party (security) called regarding a report that someone was threatening to jump from a crane. Since security still could not describe which crane, the communications team pulled up the traffic cameras, located the specific crane for sending responders.

“The win was that we found him,” Potts said.

Communications package

The Chandler Police Department 911 center integrated a public-safety grade first response communications package (developed by Carbyne) that gives dispatchers access to Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) capabilities in a legacy calltaking software environment that provides video-to-911 capabilities and enables device location, among other advantages.

Video-to-911 and location data

Video-to-911 enables dispatchers to stream video in real-time from a caller’s phone. For example, a caller witnesses a carjacking and calls 911. The dispatcher sends a text message to the caller for permission to access the phone’s camera. Once the caller approves and access is activated, the dispatcher can watch the crime in progress and provide the most accurate and up-to-date information to responders. The same technology can map out a caller’s exact location if they’re lost, confused, or cannot talk.

A second locator data source—Jurisdiction View in RapidSOS Portal—displays all active calls to an emergency communication center on a satellite map of their jurisdiction.  When a call is selected, the caller’s phone number is revealed on screen along with location pinpointed on the map. If the caller is in motion, their device location automatically and consistently update as they move.

Connecting to public and staff

Staying contemporary while maintaining a reliable service is a challenge facing all 911 centers, said Potts, and it takes a great deal of effort to do the right thing for the public and staff.

With the swift pace of how the public keeps attuned to events, Potts keeps a close watch on emerging communication tools that provide opportunities for bi-directional communication with the public, such as crowdsourcing apps and social media.

Transitioning to new technology and multi-channel capability takes understanding staff and incorporating changes that rely on testing, feedback, and continuous training. As highlighted in Potts’ presentation at the Early Adopter Seminar, she focuses all change on their goal of providing a “more comprehensive emergency response to our community and first responders.”

And the odd part about it?

In public safety, the technology is a matter of catching up with the modern means of communication.

“In a broader sense, the irony is that what is called innovation in the ECC is merely using communication tools that have been used in mainstream society for years,” Potts said.

Potts was hired as the communications manager in 2011, arriving just in time for several projects already in motion or in the works. Staff spent nearly four months in a double-wide trailer while the center was gutted, and infrastructure updated. A new CAD system was installed, and they added text, picture, and video for non-emergency calls (text-to-911 was regionally deployed in 2018). She is focused on building a multi-channel environment that provides a more comprehensive emergency response

The work is never done. Technology advances. New problems surface before existing problems are solved. Potts is always looking at the gaps, like overflow calls in a large emergency and outages.

“How do we solve problems in a single point of failure system?” she asked. “If we only have one way for the public to contact us, then what? We must create paths and create them ahead of time. We can’t wait to do it in response to a very bad day.”

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