Region adopts new 911 platform with GPS and video feature

TRI-COUNTY REGION — The Rio Grande Council of Governments, the association of local governments which includes Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties, as of this week has adopted a new call management platform for handling 911 calls — one that allows responders to more precisely pinpoint the location of callers and to even see them on video.

RIOCOG struck a deal with Carbyne, a tech company that has built a cloud-based emergency services platform positioning itself as the future of emergency response. The technology, which was implemented on Tuesday in Brewster and Presidio counties, is expected to be a “drastic improvement” upon the old system, said Presidio County Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitschke, due to its ability to more accurately pinpoint a caller’s location.

“This system pinpoints the location of the phone and does it very quickly, and it is really accurate,” said Mitschke. “If we get a caller who calls in 911 for a fire, it’ll pick that location up, and dispatch can ask them the questions that need to be asked … I think it’s gonna improve our response times, because the locations are more exact, so we know where we’re going when we head out.”

Traditionally, when a caller dials 911 from a cellular device, that call is dependent on cell towers, explained Lara Kelsey of Carbyne, the triangulation of which can determine a caller’s location within approximately a mile radius but won’t be precise. Carbyne’s cloud-based system, on the other hand, allows dispatchers to pinpoint the location of a caller within 15 meters of the cell phone’s location as soon as the call is received.

But with the caller’s consent, the technology can unlock an even greater degree of location accuracy, said Kelsey. Carbyne sends the caller a text, asking them to allow Carbyne access to the device location — dispatchers will then be able to see the caller’s location within five to 15 feet. The technology also discloses elevation, so that if a caller is on the third floor of a building, responders will be able to ascertain that before arriving at the scene.

“There’s a huge difference when you’re trying to find somebody,” said Kelsey, who noted the service could be used for locating migrants who are lost in the desert. “If you have a migrant who is able to get cell phone reception but they don’t know where they’re at, they’re in the desert, they’re hurt, they need assistance … this gives them the geo-coordinates so they can go right to where the person is calling from and get them the assistance that they need.”

Carbyne is already in touch with the Mexican government, said Kelsey, and in the future the service will facilitate cross-border communication.

Beyond identifying precise location, if the caller consents to give Carbyne access, responders will be given access to a video stream so the caller can show responders where they are and what emergency situation they are facing. 

Mitschke noted that the service could be extremely useful in search-and-rescue missions. “If you’ve got someone out there hiking and they happen to have cell service, they can call in and instead of trying to figure out where they’re at, it’ll pinpoint them with GPS,” he said.

Annette Gutierrez, executive director of the Rio Grande Council of Governments, touted the new service as a boon for the region, which is often faced by difficulties when it comes to emergency response.

“Many of the communities that the Rio Grande Council of Governments serves face challenges related to population decline, workforce and economic development, and especially emergency communications,” said Gutierrez in a statement. “Our organization has been working diligently over the last several years in providing NEXGEN 911 services. The Carbyne c-Live APEX product, which is a cloud-native call management solution is the best solution to implement. The product will enable the PSAP Dispatcher to capture the audio and data to a single platform and allow for the essential information to get to their first responders.”

According to RIOCOG Region Services Director Marisa Quintanilla, the total cost of adopting Carbyne for the RIOCOG area was $490,000. “This amount covered the cost of Carbyne’s Apex Solution integration for all of the five public safety answering (Alpine PD, Brewster County Sheriff’s Office, Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, Culberson County Sheriff’s Office, and Hudspeth County Sheriff’s Office),” she wrote in an email.

Kelsey of Carbyne said that ultimately the service is cheaper for counties because Carbyne handles maintenance of all equipment as part of the service — so counties do not have to refresh their hardware every few years.

County Judge Cinderela Guevara was thrilled with the implementation of the new technology. “This type of technology ensures accurate device base location,” said Guevara in a statement. “It also integrates rapid S.O.S., has video, text, and voice, making Carbyne the excellent choice for public safety and the ability to reach distressed 911 callers in a more timely manner and therefore saving more lives.”