Joe Gaudett, Director of Emergency Communications for the City of Stamford, Conn., says his three biggest focuses right now are keeping his staff safe and secure; having enough resources not only in terms of people within the call center but out for response as well; and using technology to continue to function and respond safely and efficiently to serve the citizens of Stamford.

“It’s about increasing effectiveness and performance while decreasing expenses,” Gaudett says. Of course, it’s a lot easier to say it then to do it. Emergency communications dispatchers and first responders around the country have to deal with unanticipated events and issues regularly, but particularly in 2020 amid an influx of emergency health concerns, domestic violence, social unrest and spikes in crime, their job has a renewed focus.

To keep up with decreases in funding, limited response personnel, and workforce gaps for reliable, well-trained dispatchers, many emergency call centers have had to do more with less, and implementing technology can help. For Stamford’s emergency communications center, which fields approximately 400 calls a day and directs all emergency medical, fire and police services calls for the city, Gaudett says they have experienced an increase in mental-health type calls amid COVID-19, as well as have had to beef up staffing amid police accountability and other protests — all while changing the way operators and first responders communicate and respond to incidents.

“Our Mayor David Martin is a big proponent of using technology to help us do our jobs. With that support, and help from the CARES Act, we were able to purchase a cloud-based system that interfaces with our 911 system and that’s been a big leap forward for us,” Gaudett says.

One of the benefits of the Carbyne cloud-based emergency communications platform that Gaudett and his team were able to implement is it allows dispatchers to engage in video calls that can help them gather further details about an emergency, a fire or any other incident and better determine what kind of response is needed. “You talk about wanting situational awareness. You can see the color of the smoke for a fire call,” Gaudett says. “That’s tremendous for us.”

But even more so, the application has had several other unexpected benefits to their operations. For example, operations now have the ability to initiate a text to a caller in the event of a silent, abandoned or hung up call. In the past, operators were able to respond to a text but could not initiate a text. “It’s a huge advantage,” he says.

In addition, perhaps the most powerful feature of the new technology that has transformed and tightened up operations, particularly for emergency events, is location services. Operators in the emergency call center can pinpoint where a call is coming from, and even find a trail of clues if the caller is moving. Indeed, the very day Stamford turned on its new technology app, the center received an unexpected demonstration of its value.

“Within three hours, we received a call from a kayaker whose boat got swept up, and she ended up on the rocks along Long Island Sound and didn’t know where she was. We were able to determine exactly where she was via coordinates and were able to copy and paste those coordinates into the Fire responders’ navigation unit on their boat. It was very dramatic,” he says.

With Stamford right along a coastline that stretches the entire length of the city, these types of calls happen more than once in a blue moon. In the past, responders would have to send out one or more vehicles and flash their lights and sound their horns, with the responder asking if he/she could see them from the water. “It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. We save a lot of time, resources and frustration.” Gaudett says.

In the end, with a focus on efficient, safe response all with limited resources, a little technology goes a long way.