Video to 9-1-1: What It Means for Us on the Frontline

Original Post Date: December 11, 2019

As more and more centers are equipped with text to 9-1-1 capabilities and the ability to get better locations it’s only right that the next wave of technologic advancements makes its way to the forefront. One capability that’s causing some division among dispatchers is that of video to 9-1-1. Since the start of 9-1-1 our link to callers has been through audio calls so it doesn’t come as a surprise that some are apprehensive about this new technology on the horizon. As someone who rarely FaceTimes (or calls anyone for that matter) I understand the trepidation this new technology brings. What will we see? Will callers see our faces? What kind of effect will this have on our already threatened mental health? How will this add to our workload? Will there be snacks? (Ok, that last one doesn’t really apply, but it’s a standard question I usually ask.) Thanks to some of the great guys over at Carbyne and their willingness to show me how it all works, we’re going to explore a few of these questions and what the video option may really look like for dispatch. 

1“If it’s two-way my face will get me fired.”

No one knows more than I how it feels to always be making sure my face isn’t saying things out loud it shouldn’t be. The good news is, this technology goes one way. Your job is safe as long as you continue to be helpful and professional. The common assumption is that the technology will look like FaceTime or Skype. Thankfully for those of us who find our faces expressing what our mouths don’t, we are safe.

2. “Video will just pop up and we won’t know what we’re about to see.” 

This is a common fear that seems to come up when I ask other dispatchers about their thoughts on video 9-1-1 and is something I myself initially worried about. This my friends, is not exactly how it works. 

As it stands right now with privacy laws we can’t just “tap in” and receive video from cell phone cameras (despite what some callers may think.) In order for us to get access we must have permission. When using a system like Carbyne, this is in the form of a link that is sent after the call is answered and the dispatcher lets the caller know that by clicking the link they can give video permissions. What this also does is allow the dispatcher to potentially get at least an idea of the nature of the call before any video is seen. The only way around the usage of the link is if someone were to have the Carbyne app on their phone and through that they would have already given video permissions. This still does not necessarily mean instant video access and you would be able to have some control as you are answering that audio call first.

3. “I already hear terrible things, I don’t want to see them.” 

When you hear those terrible sounds or about horrific calls, what’s the first thing you do? Imagine it! Sometimes our imagination is even worse than the real thing. That’s not to say that we should want to see everything, but instead just to give perspective, even though we’re not seeing terrible things with our eyes; we’re definitely seeing them with our minds. When it comes to what will be seen or not seen on video, it may come down to your own center. Even if video is streaming, it is not necessarily required that you watch it. What this means for you is that your center will have to help decide in which situations you should try to utilize video, what situations it’s not necessary, and at what point during certain call types you are no longer required to monitor the video. One of the great benefits with a company like Carbyne, is that even if you exit out, the video is still recording. This means that it can potentially be used for evidentiary or investigative purposes later without anyone initially viewing it. 

Often when we answer calls the reality seems to be a lot less scary than what we have pictured. This is important to remember. We may be able to come away with even less mental scars through being able to have more information and a firsthand look at what’s happening. We also must remember that the truly traumatic calls seem to be fewer and farther between than the mundane calls or the ones that make us go “you called 9-1-1 for that?” (You won’t need to use the video function when someone calls about their power out, I can almost guarantee that.) 

4. It will be an increase in workload 

When you add a program to the desktop it’s easy to assume that it will just add more work. What if though this would be a way to maybe decrease our work load. Imagine someone calls in an accident, they’re stating they’re injured and there’s two other vehicles involved and proceed to describe a horrific scene. You dispatch multiple officers and ambulances, who once on scene discover that the “injury” is nothing more than a superficial cut to the head and it’s probably better described as a fender bender. 

Now imagine if that caller had utilized video; could you have sent less medic units? Maybe not. But could you have sent less officers had you known that it was a fender bender and all vehicles were off on the shoulder? Most likely, yes. This would also allow you to possibly send those officers at a normal status instead of having to expedite, which would help keep them safer. The video option could also help us to reassure callers when we see what they’re looking at and can more confidently direct them. Although learning a new program and how it all works and fits in at your center can seem like lot of work on the front end, it may help save resources and increase responder safety in the long run.  

It’s important to remember that just as any other technology, you won’t ALWAYS use it. One of the great benefits is that it can be individualized for your agency. Dispatchers and leadership can determine how this best fits. When you have a call such as a shooting or in-progress home invasion, it may not be feasible to get video feed and that’s okay, but think of the stranded drivers who have no idea where they are that could easily send video of their surroundings to help us find them. 

Change can be rough and with a job that’s never the same two days in a row, throwing a new program or resource in the mix can just compound the frustrations. It’s important to remember though that what may seem scary at first may be one of the best tools we have in the long run. We all know that a simple article such as this one isn’t likely to change a whole lot of views, but maybe instead of “no thank you” you may now be thinking “well maybe I could try it.”

Special thanks to Brett T., Ricardo, & Brian D., at Carbyne for answering my million questions. I could go on much longer with all the information they have given me, but the purpose of this post is really to dispel some myths and get people to think about being more open to the great tools coming our way.

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