Houston & Peach

Latest technology gives 911 operators eyes inside a burglary while it’s happening

Houston County’s 911 center is “Next Generation 911,” which means the center has the capability of receiving texts and live stream video from security surveillance systems.

What that means for the public is that if someone breaks into your house and you’re hiding in a closest, you’ll be able to text 911 for help.

Or if the alarm goes off at your business, 911 operators will be able to view a live video stream from the security surveillance system and tell law enforcement what’s happening.

But implementation of those advances and potentially others — part of a $6.5 million 911 center upgrade and renovation — won’t happen right away, said Houston County sheriff’s Capt. Ricky Harlowe, 911 center commander.

Verizon, AT&T and other cellphone carriers will have to be officially notified that the county expects to start receiving text messages in the first quarter of 2017, Harlowe said. That will give the carriers time to make any necessary updates to their systems.

He also plans to launch a public education campaign before implementation.

“We want you to text 911 when you can’t call, like if there’s an intruder in your house and you’re in a closet or under the bed and you can’t talk, that’s when we want you to text 911,” Harlowe said. “But any other time, we prefer that you call 911.”

A similar public education campaign would be initiated before alarm companies can live stream security surveillance video into the 911 center.

What’s envisioned is allowing residents and business owners the option of allowing their alarm companies to share the live feed when an alarm goes off, Harlowe said.

Not all alarm companies offer the service, but for those that do and for residents and businesses owners who want it, 911 operators would then have eyes inside when an alarm sounds.

Harlowe said he’s also researching the possibility of also sharing the live video stream with responding law enforcement officers on their equipment.

“A lot of people may be leery with cameras in their house. ... Some people are skittish and they say, ‘Well, they might be able to turn on the camera and watch us even when were at home and we don’t know it,’ ” Harlowe said. “But that wouldn’t be the case.”

The decision whether to opt in or out would be up to the consumers and their alarm companies, with no action required by the governments within the city or county, Harlowe said.

Right now, Harlowe said he’s not aware of any other 911 centers in the county that are using the live stream technology. A few, like Paulding County, are receiving text messages, he said.

“We were just fortunate in the timing, that we put it out to the SPLOST voters and it falling right in with the beginning of the Next Gen 911,” Harlowe said.

Becky Purser: 478-256-9559, @BecPurser