BY ADRIAN MCCANDLESS
Special to Star-Telegram
January 29, 2018
KELLER – Help came quickly for one elderly woman when she fell in her large senior living complex in Keller, thanks to the 911 Smartphone app.
“We found her in the parking lot and that was the success, because GPS showed us exactly where she was and her profile gave us all of her information,” said Warren Dudley, NETCOM manager at the Keller dispatch center. Dudley highlighted this incident as one that occurred last year, that showcases how the app should work.
More than a year after launching the SirenGPS app, often referred to as the “Uber for 911,” Keller city officials are seeing significant improvements, while other cities are jumping on board with the innovative technology.
“It has been fantastic and continues to improve,” Dudley said.
Last year, the Northeast Communications Center, or NETCOM, received 414 alerts within Keller, Southlake, Colleyville and Westlake.
According to NETCOM reports, of those alerts 312 were 911 requests using GPS, 101 were administration calls and one text. The app was used by Keller residents 253 times compared to 89 times in Southlake, Colleyville had 66 uses and eight times in Westlake.
NETCOM officials had previously given several demonstrations to the senior community, including that particular apartment complex, he said.
“That’s the key,” Dudley said. “Especially in the older community… If you can keep up with Facebook, you can work this app.”
Dudley said other ways the app has been used is by reporting reckless driving, suspected drunken drivers and even suspicious person in the area.
Last year, NETCOM became the first dispatch center in the U.S. to use SirenGPS app, which can pinpoint locations of cellphone users better than more traditional technology.
But, calling 911 from a cellular phone can prove challenging at times and often does not give emergency personnel an exact location of the caller, said Paul Rauner, SirenGPS chief executive officer.
A cell phone will ping off of the closest cell tower, but when you use the app it will give an exact location, Rauner said.
“When you call 911 from a mobile phone the 911 operator that answers your call doesn’t receive your location – which is really the most important piece of information about your emergency,” Rauner said. “When you call 911 from a mobile phone using SirenGPS app, we send an emergency call event with an accurate location and a profile that you manage.
“They are more likely to provide an effective intervention if you share relevant medical information, your emergency contacts and your picture with them,” Rauner said.
Having that profile information readily available reduces the time needed to get users help, Dudley said.
New features could be added
Currently, about 2,000 members are active in the NETCOM boundaries, which services about 100,000 people, Dudley said.
After having success with the app’s mass alert system and 911 features, officials are now pushing for improvements for the deaf and hard of hearing community contacting NETCOM, he said.
One of the main features that are in place for 911 for the deaf and hard of hearing community is called TTY, which is a teletype set up, he said.
“Some of those require them to call a service and then the service calls 911,” Dudley said. “That really slows things down.”
Sentence structure can be also different for those using sign language, Dudley said.
“The phrase that they text us might not make sense, so if we didn’t have the GPS location service on here, we may still not know what they want or what they’re trying to say, but we can go ahead and send an officer out,” he said. “At least I have someone going out immediately to get them help and the officer will know that when someone is coming at you and their hands are moving rapidly or they run and grab you, they know in advance that there is a communication barrier.”
Providing another layer of safety and protection
Last month, Fort Worth launched a pilot program using SirenGPS for their Citizens on Patrol, said Judith Bell, Fort Worth Police Department Code Blue coordinator.
“The purpose of the SirenGPS App is to provide another layer of safety and protection to our nearly 700 Citizens on Patrol members by allowing easier access to 911,” she said. “Additionally, it provides the ability to locate the Citizen on Patrol member in times of an emergency.”
The app is only available for Citizen on Patrol members in the North and Northwest Divisions, but is expected to be expanded to the rest of the divisions in March, Bell said.
There were many reasons the SirenGPS app made sense to implement in Azle last June, said Police Chief Rick Pippins.
“We needed a way to send out mass communications and SirenGPS fit the bill,” Pippins said. “We can send out weather or traffic alerts and it will go over text, email, all at one time to thousands of people. It’s a very good and quick, easy way to do that.”
The police department is proud of following NETCOM’s lead in implementing the technology, Pippins said.
“It is a great value and for what it does, especially for our users, it is a free app for them,” he said. “You can enter in as much or as little info as I like.”
And the calls keep coming
So far, 44 calls have been made to the Azle dispatch using SirenGPS, but it’s not about quantity, Pippins, said.
“It is a break glass in case of emergency kind of deal,” he said. “It’s not something used every day, but it’s there when we need it.”
Emergencies on Eagle Mountain Lake, are ideal scenarios to use the 911 app that can pinpoint where someone is within 10 feet, Pippins said.
“Sometimes a few feet versus a quarter of a mile in a life or death situation could mean a lot,” he said.
In the event of an emergency, by using the SirenGPS, emergency personnel will know the user’s exact location on the lake and would be able to send help from Tarrant Regional Water District police services, Pippins said.
“We recommend highly that anyone enjoying Eagle Mountain Lake to take their cell phone and have this app,” Pippins said.
So far, Azle has about 2,950 members for their SirenGPS app, which is not a bad number in comparison to the city’s 12,500 residents, Pippins said.
“We’d like to have more,” he said. “We want to see that grow.”
For Dudley, he wishes more cities would jump on board.
“We have technology in place right now that through traditional means may not be available for another five years,” he said. “We are able to use it right now and I can only imagine what this technology is going to be like five years from now.”