The independent news organization of Duke University

New technology pinpoints Durham 911 call locations

Now when you call 911 in Durham, communication officers will still ask “What is your emergency?” but they will already know the best way to track you down.

The Durham Emergency Communication Center has installed Pictometry technology, which allows officers to inspect an inbound caller’s location through 3D-like aerial images. Pictometry shows dispatchers up to 12 different angled views of a property, building, highway or other feature within Durham County. The program works with both cellular phones and landlines.

Director of the Durham Emergency Communication Center James Soukup said the new technology provides accurate information to emergency responders to deal with situations when they arrive on the scene. Soukup said the software allows dispatchers to provide firefighters with remote guidance of obstacles that might impair access to a building and give police officers information about entry and escape.

“The technology truly takes us to the next level in our ability to locate callers reporting emergencies and also to aid the emergency responders with valuable information access to the incident scene,” Soukup said.

Durham Fire Chief Bruce Pagan said he has seen many emergencies in the past in which the technology would have benefited his department. Although the software does not provide real-time imagery, Pagan said the digital information of the location of buildings and streets will increase the efficiency of responders when they arrive on the scene.

Pagan noted that the software’s full potential came to use a few days ago.

“There was a structure fire call that came in over the past week,” he said. “It was a work shed that was on fire. Normally work sheds are detached from primary residences but this one wasn’t. That’s information that the firefighter could use to see that the whole structure was vulnerable.”

According to a statement released Monday, Durham used $214,605 from the North Carolina Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association to pay for the software. The city covered the remaining $66,550 using 911 surcharge funds.

“The center is always looking at technological ways to improve and this was an opportunity with us with the federal funding to get this in here as part of an improvement,” Soukup said. “When the opportunity made itself available we acted on it and we got it.”

Pictometry is not unique to Durham. Major metropolitan areas using Pictometry include Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco.

George Fosque, director of the Emergency Communication Center in Cambridge, Mass., said Pictometry can be very useful to dispatchers because it offers features like access to oblique angles and frequent updates, even though he does not use the program in his department.

“One could use Google Maps,” he said. “But one would not have the 911 [computer-aided design] integration.”

The new technology can also help those who are unfamiliar with the county get out of a bad situation, allowing Soukup’s department to locate and aid them easily, he said.

Pagan said he is still figuring out all the features the software has to offer, but added that he is pleased with Pictometry’s potential.

“It’s able to measure distance and height and things that we can’t actually do with our eyes,” Pagan said. “That is just some really good variable information to have at your fingertips.”


Share and discuss “New technology pinpoints Durham 911 call locations” on social media.