(Bannock County Press Release, October 19, 2023)

Bannock County is implementing new technology that will enhance 911 services and allow callers to send live video to dispatchers to help improve emergency responses.

On Monday, Oct. 23, people calling or texting 911 within Bannock County will be able to send video and audio to dispatchers. The new feature, called “Prepared 911,” was also added to Pocatello and Chubbuck’s dispatch centers this summer.

Adam McKinney, Bannock County’s 911/Emergency Communications Director, describes Prepared 911 as the next step in enhancing the area’s public safety communications.

“The idea is, if someone contacts 911, our dispatchers can send them a link to turn on their audio or camera. While first responders are on their way, the phone can be collecting that data, which could be useful for emergency responders or prosecutors,” McKinney said.

Sending video or audio to 911 is completely voluntary. It requires the person calling to open a link and agree to connect their camera to the link. The video and audio can be recorded, or it can also be sent to the responding officer so they can see the emergency situation before arriving on the scene.

“I see this helping in domestic violence situations, in car accidents, and even in rural areas to help locate where a person is by looking at the surrounding landmarks,” McKinney said.

Prepared 911 is an extension of the Text-to-911 feature, which was implemented in Bannock County in 2018. Text-to-911 allows people to text emergency dispatchers from a mobile device. It’s helpful for people who are Deaf, hearing impaired, or have speech disabilities, as well as those who cannot safely call 911.

McKinney said one of the most common emergencies reported via Text-to-911 is domestic violence because texting is more discreet than calling.

“It makes brilliant sense to me. If you’re being attacked, you can text 911, which is less likely to get caught by an abusive partner. And then you add the audio or video element, and it might save some people,” McKinney said.

When texting 911, dispatchers will ask for the person’s location, what the situation is, who is involved, and why this is happening.

“This has changed the way our dispatch center operates. Our dispatchers are highly trained to multi-task and must be aware of all the tools available as we continue to improve services,” said Captain Scott Ames, who oversees Bannock County’s dispatch center.

While Text-to-911 has been groundbreaking, there are some limitations, Ames said.

“Text-to-911 only allows a certain number of characters we can send in a message before we are cut off. Our questions and answers are short,” Ames explained. “We try to get very specific, very quickly, so we can assess the situation, gather the proper information, and send officers to the call.”

Another extension of Text-to-911 is Rapid SOS, which was implemented two years ago in Bannock County. Rapid SOS shares the cell phone location of the caller or texter to dispatchers. Like in the movies, the location will show up on a map and follow the phone’s location for as long as they’re connected to the call. It can also share health data, such as if a person is diabetic or has allergies, if the person has that information in their phone.

McKinney has big plans for the long-term future of Bannock County’s dispatch center. Right now, Bannock County, Chubbuck, and Pocatello’s dispatch centers act as each other’s backup in case one or two locations go down. But McKinney wants to strengthen that safety net by adding Next Generation Core Services.

“If all of Bannock County’s dispatch centers go down in a catastrophe, we need to be able to have Bonneville County or Ada County take the wheel,” McKinney said. “Having Next Gen services would allow us to explore the idea of moving all of Bannock County’s dispatch centers into one building because we’d still have that redundancy if something happened to our center.”

Thinking even bigger, McKinney wants to explore the idea of creating a regional dispatch center for southeast Idaho’s “District Interoperability Governance Board,” or DIGB. Bannock County is in DIGB 5, which also incorporates Bear Lake, Bingham, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida, and Power counties. McKinney said he is just starting to explore what it would take to make this happen.

“I give serious kudos to the previous director for having the vision to set Bannock County up with enterprise-level 911 equipment. If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be desirable for these other counties to connect to us. We may not be in the current position we’re in, being able to shape what the future of 911 is going to look like,” McKinney said.

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