GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, NJ — In the first moments following a tragedy, the person in the first line of defense is the dispatcher. Whether a crime in progress, fire or some other kind of disaster, the dispatcher fulfills the role of point person. They answer the call, direct first responders and try to keep a victim in a terrible situation as calm as possible.
It would be much easier if the dispatchers could physically see what was happening. In Gloucester Township, they now can, as a result of upgrades that were recently made to the police department’s dispatch center.
“It is well understood that so many people carry their cell phones with them all the time, and it is important that we provide the ability to our community members to utilize their cell phones at their maximum potential to keep them and their neighborhoods safe,” Gloucester Township police said in the announcement. “Such maximum utilization can go well beyond the ability of that same cell phone to call 911 when a police agency has invested in the necessary technology to enable these devices to help in the mission of public safety.”
As of last Thursday, the Gloucester Township Police Community Policing Dispatch Center is equipped with 911Eye, which enables a telecommunicator to send a text message to the caller who will then click on the message, so they can provide live video footage or an image and their GPS location to the telecommunicator. This system will function on any smart phone and there are no “apps” needed to be installed by the caller. Additionally, the 911Eye fully functions on both the 911 phone system and the police department’s non-emergency number at 856-228-4500.
This was among the upgrades announced on Monday, Aug. 26, the first upgrades to the dispatch center since 2002.
“Unlike the visible officer or patrol car in the community, telecommunicators are performing their essential duties generally out of the public’s vision,” police said. “However, I cannot state clearly enough that our Telecommunicators are on the front lines of our community policing efforts as they along with our twenty-four hour Community Policing Dispatch Center play an absolute critical role in delivering all of our services. Our Dispatch Center does not only handle 911 calls, as it also hosts the call center for our non-emergency number which directs residents to a variety of non-police services 24 hours a day.
“Additionally, Telecommunicators assist residents with lost and found animals, guide callers to the appropriate police reporting mechanism, and assist in overseeing the vast number of video monitoring systems in our many parks and public buildings.”
The upgrade plan was developed as a result of input from the telecommunicators, a review of other communication centers, and the expanding role technology plays in delivering police services, according to police
It also focused on the importance of the wellness of the telecommunicator and their environment to ensure their well-being while delivering maximum efficiency of public safety services.
To that end, the existing 911 Dispatch Consoles were replaced with Xybix ergonomic dispatch kiosks that raise and lower in order for dispatchers to perform their duties from both standing and sitting positions. Police said this is very important for dispatchers who are working 12-hour shifts or longer.
The final upgrade is in place, but won’t be visible to the public immediately.
The police department’s 911 System has been upgraded to the Next Gen 911 Platform, which will enable the township’s 911 system to receive text messages and assist those with disabilities in connecting to 911. It will provide better interoperability in emergencies with the police department’s public partners, and pinpoint the caller’s location on a map, including those that text to 911.
The previous system operated on an analog technology whereas this new upgraded system operates on a voiceover IP technology, police said. This upgrade was completed by KML Technology in West Deptford.
The police department’s 911 System is now fully compliant with the New Jersey NextGen Plan, which is not in-service at this time in New Jersey. However, once New Jersey begins the transition to NextGen 911, police will be fully ready to provide this emergency service to the residents of Gloucester Township immediately.
The upgrade process began in 2016 with concept drawings and a needs assessment. Once the plan was finalized, vendors were selected and construction began, in 2018, Earle said.
“We are confident that this system will enable our residents to provide live images to our dispatch center for certain situations that can improve safety by confirming the caller’s exact location, assist us in dispatching the most appropriate resources, and create better communications by enhancing the conversation to include video or images,” police said. “The range of incidents where 911Eye may be of assistance is broad and will likely include suspicious person or vehicle calls, active fires, motor vehicle crashes, lost or found children, reuniting pets with their owners, or any other incident where situational awareness can be improved by the use of the 911Eye. We have always said that our residents and Neighborhood Watch Members are the ‘Eyes and Ears’ of the department and with the help of 911Eye we are bringing the ‘Eyes’ to an entirely new level of sophistication that will help everyone.”