BROWN COUNTY, Ind. — Brown County is one of four Indiana counties that have adopted new technology for 911 calls.
It's software called Prepared Live and dispatchers say it can be a game-changer in responding to emergencies.
During a 911 call, dispatchers normally have to rely on a victim's or witness' verbal description of the danger. But now, in Brown County, they can see the scene for themselves with the new software.
It lets citizens use their cell phone camera to livestream an emergency directly to dispatch.
"A lot of times, people under stress don't give us the best information sometimes. So it's kind of nice to be able to see that," said dispatcher Nick Kelp.
"Them giving us access to the scene can maybe help us see what they're trying to explain that they're struggling with to get across to us," said Brown County 911 director Andrea Marcum.
Marcum said Prepared Live is free to 911 centers.
She spotted the service at a conference in Louisville and decided it would be a good fit in Brown County. They've been using it for nearly two months.
It's completely voluntary for the caller. Prepared Live is only used with their permission and dispatcher access only lasts during that phone call.
How it works
When someone dials 911, dispatch can send them a text.
If the caller accepts, the caller clicks the link and then the 911 operator can see the caller's camera.
It can be used for live video of a fire or storm damage so they can pinpoint a location of downed power lines or see how close a building really is to a neighboring fire.
Callers can upload screenshots of a license plate from a crash or missing persons case.
It can also help dispatchers give better medical care coaching, while a victim is waiting on an ambulance.
"If we need to talk them through CPR, we can have them go live and then we can make sure they're doing it correctly. We can watch it as they're doing it," Marcum explained.
Prepared Live also better pinpoints a caller's location with accurate GPS data.
Kelp said Brown County dispatchers have used the software 138 times since launching it in late July.
Most have been for location data only, for hang-up 911 calls or for interdepartmental use — such as letting the highway department know exactly where trees fell on roads during severe weather.
But about a dozen calls have included the live streams.
The most helpful, they said, has been finding lost hikers at Brown County State Park. That's happened more than once, and they believe it'll be useful in the future, as well.
"This person was lost. They called 911 and accepted Prepared Live," Marcum said. "Then they were able to send pictures of right where they were, trail markers and stuff that they could see — so we could relay that on to the people responding so they were able to be found quicker. And they were found faster because of it. From the pictures, they knew right where to go."
What a dispatcher sees from the camera, they can share with first responders, so police and firefighters arrive better informed to save lives. That's particularly helpful since distance is an issue in Brown County. It can take awhile for first responders to get to a scene. But eyes on the emergency, from a caller to dispatch, can make the process smoother so they can respond prepared.
"This way they have it before they even arrive," Marcum said. "The more we can help them, the better."