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New tech allows Upper Vally dispatchers to pinpoint location of mobile 911 cals

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2019 9:56:26 PM
Modified: 5/26/2019 9:56:24 PM

HANOVER — Police departments and dispatchers around the Upper Valley are beginning to use a new technology that can help pinpoint the location of people in distress who call 911 from a mobile phone.

The Hanover Regional Communications Center recently began using the RapidLite technology and said the program has already been used in finding two people in crisis.

One was a man who had been in a car accident in Lyme but didn’t know where he was and the other was a woman who had broken her leg on a trail at French’s Ledges in Plainfield.

Hanover dispatchers were able to locate both people by plugging their cellphone numbers — which came through 911 when they called — into RapidSOS’s RapidLite web-based browser, a tool that provides dispatchers with the exact GPS coordinates of a cellphone. Rescue personnel then responded and found each of the callers within yards of the coordinates provided through the technology, according to Hanover Communications Coordinator Doug Hackett.

“We are able to find people quickly and accurately,” Hackett said. “It gives us confidence that we know right where the person is.”

The technology is especially helpful in the Upper Valley because many of the dispatch centers provide coverage to rural areas with spotty cellular coverage, which sometimes makes it hard to receive accurate location information in a timely fashion.

It’s also helpful for Hanover because its dispatch center serves 23 towns on both sides of the Connecticut River. The conventional method to locate someone who calls 911 on a cellphone is to triangulate the location from more than one point using cellphone towers, something that doesn’t provide an exact location and proves tricky when Twin State towers work together or when there is only one tower to work off of, Hackett said.

“We are always looking for ways to better serve our community and possibly saving a life,” Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said. “The system is there and it just made perfect sense to bring it in to our communications center.”

RapidSOS, a New York-based public safety technology company, launched the RapidLite technology in June 2018. The web tool is only available to 911 dispatch centers that go through an approval process.

Hanover dispatch launched the technology in December and only has had to use it in two instances — the first on March 30 in Lyme and the second on April 19 in Plainfield. However, Hackett said he anticipates that number will quickly rise as hiking season ramps up.

Launching such technology is a sign of changing times. Two decades ago, most of the 911 calls came through dispatch from people using landline telephones, which provided dispatchers with a home or business location. Now, about 75% of 911 calls to Hanover dispatch are coming from cellphones, Hackett said.

“Up here, (this technology) just makes sense,” he said. “It was an easy decision.”

Hackett said the website can only link dispatchers with users’ exact location if they have the latest operating system on their cellphones.

The technology works with both iPhones and Android phones.

Individuals who worry about the police being able to track them in the days, weeks or years after they called 911 for help, shouldn’t have that concern, Hackett said.

The location data in RapidLite, which is based off data from the device provider, like Apple and Android, only is available for 10 minutes after the call ends, said RapidSOS spokesperson Sam Bleiberg.

“The data is cleared from our system after that point,” Bleiberg said.

Currently, approximately 3,000 agencies nationwide have access to data from the RapidSOS Clearinghouse, the company’s source for emergency data, through RapidLite or an integration with their existing software providers, Bleiberg said.

RapidLite is free for 911 dispatch centers; the company makes money by charging alarm-system companies, car makers and other companies to integrate with its technology.

Another agency deploying the technology is the Grafton County Sheriff’s Department. Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase said he has heard of the service but hasn’t signed up, while Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten said his agency has enrolled for the service.

Grafton County Director of Communications Thomas Andross said the sheriff’s department went live with the technology about three weeks ago, but hasn’t had to use it in a time of crisis yet.

“There is really no reason not to (get the service) because it is cost-free to us and it does help us fill in a gap in location information,” Andross said.

In Lebanon, Police Chief Richard Mello said his department does not use the RapidLite technology but has a similar capability through the use of a “caller location query” module via its dispatch console and records management system. Mello said the RapidLite technology “may be a bit more robust than what we currently use,” and Lebanon’s communications supervisor is getting more information about it from colleagues in Hanover.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.




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