THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — Public safety officials in Pennington County are preparing to start using video chat software to interact with 911 callers next month, giving them the ability to see what's happening on the scene of an emergency.
It will be the first county in Minnesota to take video 911 calls, a technology that could eventually be in widespread use among police and other emergency responders.
The Pennington County Sheriff's Office says the system, created by Israel-based public safety technology company Carbyne, will change the way police get information from callers by providing a better look at the scene than a normal phone call.
"If they flip on the camera we can get a much more detailed description of a suspect vehicle or a suspect themselves," said Chief Deputy Seth Vettleson.
Officials hope the technology will also help save lives in medical emergencies.
Pennington County is about 40 miles across and it can take sheriff's deputies 30 minutes to drive across it. With video available through the Carbyne system, first responders can make better-informed decisions about what resources they need to send to an emergency call, Vettelson said.
"It's a 20-minute flight to Grand Forks to the hospital, so that could save crucial minutes and hopefully (save) somebody's life in the future," he said.
In a state that introduced text-to-911 just two years ago, Pennington County hopes to be on the cutting edge by jumping on the new trend in public safety technology.
"We were the first one in the state to be chosen," Vettleson said. "I can't say for the country. But we are the first in the state of Minnesota."
Vettelson said video could also be useful in situations where someone can't speak or if they're injured and pass out. It will also allow responders to more accurately pinpoint the location of an emergency.
Emergency calls can be triangulated down to within a mile in Pennington County, but video 911 through Carbyne can track a phone's location within one foot. It's yet another feature the department hopes will save time.
Video 911 callers will have to accept an invitation to allow dispatchers to see through their phone's camera and police say it won't record video without a caller's permission.
"If they decline, the dispatcher will not see anything on their camera. If they accept it, that is when that is activated and we will receive that information," Vettleson said.
Pennington County is using the Carbyne system at no cost to taxpayers for the first year.
Vettelson said the time it will save for first responders is what makes the system a good investment.
"Time is what saves lives," he said. "The quicker we get them the meds, CPR, stopping the bleeding — that is all crucial."