Minnesota county to be state’s 1st to use 911 video chat

Published 8:57 am Saturday, August 3, 2019

MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — A county in northwest Minnesota is about to become the first in the state to let cellphone callers stream live video and audio to dispatchers when they call 911 for help.

Ray Kuznia, sheriff of Pennington County, said that the technology will be implemented later in August, the Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Kuznia added it should help dispatchers make better decisions in responding to emergency calls such as car crashes and domestic incidents.

“There’s so many different things that can happen — from officer safety to the victim safety,” he said. “It’s endless, the list that I think (this) could help.”

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A caller will dial 911 on a cellphone within the Pennington County service area. The dispatcher can send a text message to the caller’s cellphone if they want to take over the caller’s camera. The caller has to option to accept or decline. The emergency dispatcher would then be able to see wherever the caller points the camera.

“They have to agree to open up their camera so it can be activated,” explained Sheriff Ray Kuznia.

Minnesota officials who supervise emergency communications said they are closely watching the rollout. Dana Wahlberg, who runs the Emergency Communication Networks out of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said her agency “is open to learning about the experience Pennington County has during this pilot project.”

Pennington County is among about 15 locations across the nation that has begun implementing the technology, which was developed by Israel-based Carbyne, over the last year. The other sites include Fayette County, Ga.; Ocean County, N.J.; and Logan County, Va.

Carman Neustaedter, a human-computer interaction researcher at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said the new video 911 technology has potential to make dispatch work more efficient, but it also raises privacy concerns.

Neustaedter said he anticipates there’ll be some public concern about the technology as it’s initially implemented, but he believes video 911 will ultimately become commonplace.
Sheriff Kuznia concurs.

“Five years from now, I can see the majority of the counties are going to have this,” he said. “This is just the way the world’s going. Everything’s on video now.”