New technology improves emergency service response times, dispatchers say
Anoka County Communications was one of the first dispatch centers in Minnesota to start using a new mapping technology in an effort to speed up the arrival of first responders to emergencies.
It’s called RapidDeploy, or — as the Anoka County Emergency Communications Assistant Director and 26-year telecommunicator veteran Kari Morrissey would call it, “next generation 911.”
“It’s a frustration to not really know where someone is when you know they need help,” she said in an interview at the county dispatch center on Tuesday.
It’s all about accuracy. The legacy phone system gives dispatchers an approximate location using cell phone tower data, which — with the help of dispatchers gathering information over the phone — often gets police, fire or EMS at least close to the caller’s location.
But RapidDeploy adds Apple and Google Maps data into the equation, pinpointing where someone is right away and speeding up response times at a moment where every second counts, Morrissey explained.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) offers the program to every dispatch center in the state for free using grant funding, said DPS spokesperson Veronica Marshall on Tuesday.
About 75% of the state’s dispatch centers are using it so far, she added.
Anoka County first started training telecommunicators on the technology a year ago, Morrissey said.
“Oh, we’ve helped people and found people faster, which that matters,” she continued.
RapidDeploy also allows telecommunicators to initiate a text conversation with someone in need, as opposed to the old system which only let them respond after a 911 caller texted first, Morrissey explained. That capability has also already made a difference, she added.
“We were on the phone with a caller who was in a domestic abuse situation. She told us she couldn’t talk anymore,” Morrissey shared.
With the new technology, the dispatcher immediately texted the caller’s phone to keep the dialogue going and instantaneously overcome a language barrier, she continued.
“She happened to be a Spanish speaker,” Morrisey said.
“So it translated into her native language based on what her phone was set at, and when she texted back, it translated into English. So we were able to have a two-way dialogue with someone with another language and still give them a clear message.”