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Dickinson Public Safety Center will soon better pinpoint 9-1-1 calls

Lt. Mike Hanel of the Dickinson Police Department provided a tutorial on how the new emergency response data platform called RapidSOS works.

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Lt. Mike Hanel of the Dickinson Police Department demonstrates how RapidSOS works for the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center and its 9-1-1 operators. The new emergency response data platform was recently adopted by the city's dispatch center as a way to help reduce response time and help save lives. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
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The latest product adopted by the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center reflects significant advances in connecting multiple agencies across the state and nation to provide access to real-time data often needed to help speed up emergency responses and save lives. With the new contract, Dickinson becomes one of the first in North Dakota to gain access to the new emergency response data platform, RapidSOS.

Dickinson Police Lt. Mike Hanel sat down with The Dickinson Press to walk through the new program that 9-1-1 operators will soon integrate into their system, saying the program will shorten response times for Dickinson and Stark County emergency responders and ultimately save lives.

“It's basically like a clearinghouse for all the data that's out there nowadays for notifications, alerts, alarm systems and what not. For our dispatchers, it's a one-stop single pane of glass type of system,” Hanel said. “... As society is getting more data driven, there's so many different devices and methods of communication that need one central location to coalesce into our dispatch center. So for example, what RapidSOS can initially do is it can enhance 9-1-1 location… So if you dial 9-1-1, it can now get within 10 feet of your location. In the past, we've used cell phone tower triangulation methods, that's technically how it gets your cell phone location based on that when you dial 9-1-1. But in this case, it's using the same technology as Uber and Lyft.”

The Dickinson Police Department became aware of RapidSOS toward the end of 2020, and realized the importance of adopting it, Hanel said.

“... If we have that technology out there that uses the cell phone GPS, why can’t 9-1-1 get that same technology and get within that same accuracy as Uber or Lyft?” he remarked.

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How effective is RapidSOS?

Based on the Federal Communications Commission 4th Report and Order Analysis, an estimate of 10,120 fatalities are reported annually due to a lack of accurate wireless location from mobile 9-1-1 calling. As a result of RapidSOS data, approximately 5,000 lives have been saved annually.

“The company was started because they recognized the need for coalescing data all at once, and it’s a free service that they provide to our 9-1-1 center. It doesn’t cost us anything; it’s all paid for by basically the subscribers to their systems like Uber and SimpliSafe,” Hanel said, adding, “When those companies integrate with RapidSOS, that’s (how) the cost is taken care of.”

Now that the Dickinson Police Department has partnered with RapidSOS, the dispatch center is now ready to take calls for the entire Stark County jurisdiction. With the integration of this new data platform, Hanel said he doesn’t foresee any issues that may arise.

“Obviously, there’s a learning curve with any new piece of technology in there. But from what we’ve seen so far, RapidSOS is rather intuitive,” he noted. “They have a really robust training module located within their software, so our dispatchers are just completing that phase of training and we’ll be able to start analyzing the data that’s coming in here within the next couple of weeks. (Then), we’ll start to use it full-time.”

Though Dickinson’s dispatch center still utilizes the old method of 9-1-1, Hanel explained that RapidSOS is another tool to enhance that emergency process.

How does it work?

The new method associated with RapidSOS allows for emergency responders to pinpoint an individual’s location with the same level of accuracy as transportation apps such as Uber and Lyft by tapping into an individual’s GPS functionality on their smart device.

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“That, in turn, we’ll be able to plot on a map and we’ll be able to engage Google Street View and stuff like that and actually be able to track progress… As you're on the phone with us, we'll be able to continue to track your location,” he said. “It's pretty cool.”

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Dickinson Police Lt. Mike Hanel points out the fact that the city's dispatch center is one of the first in North Dakota to adopt RapidSOS — a new emergency response data platform. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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Lt. Mike Hanel shows how RapidSOS works at the dispatch center inside the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Compatibility features

When a caller initiates a 9-1-1 call, dispatchers can utilize RapidSOS to not only access the caller’s location but receive additional incident-specific information, which has been made possible through the company’s partnership with RapidSOS Ready partners.

An example of those RapidSOS Ready partners would be if a SiriusXM-compatible vehicle is involved in a traffic collision that would result in airbag deployment, the new system would notify the local dispatch center of the crash rather than solely relying on a third party to call in the accident. Therefore, this would “make those seconds count in an emergency,” Hanel noted.

“So that in turn allows us to best respond to that situation with the appropriate amount of resources right away and there's no delay in having somebody to call 9-1-1 verbally and get there. This is all straight from the vehicle's telemetry," he said, explaining, “It'll send it straight into our dispatch center. So it'll lessen our response time and increase what type of resources we need to send right away off the bat.”

An individual may also opt in to share critical information with first responders by setting up their Apple Medical ID through the iPhone Health app or by creating an Emergency Health Profile at emergencyprofile.org — which is a free service launched by RapidSOS in collaboration with the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association and Direct Relief. Hanel noted that this will provide more input to dispatchers who will notify first responders of the individual’s medical history.

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“So by having these types of gateways established as a direct line of communication to our dispatchers is going to be saving lives in really short order,” he said.

Looking ahead

In 2022, Hanel said that the police department is hoping to integrate its Axon body camera system into RapidSOS as well.

“... This is going to be such a benefit for the citizens and visitors to Stark County to have this capability in our PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) Center," he noted. "They should have some peace of mind with this, now that we partnered with RapidSOS. (So) in the event of an emergency, we’re better prepared to give them the resources and assistance that they need."

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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