Cellphone locator ability for 911 calls installed at MPD

Maui County first dispatch center in state using RapidSOS

The Maui Police Department Dispatch Center works with the new RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse, which allows police emergency service dispatchers to receive location information from some cellphones. -- Maui Police Department photo

WAILUKU — Police are hoping to locate callers experiencing emergencies more accurately and quickly, with the implementation Thursday of new device location data software for 911 calls.

“It’s an additional tool to help us locate people we might have trouble locating,” said Davlynn Racadio, administrative dispatch supervisor for the Maui Police Department. “It’s exciting.”

Maui County is the first in the state to begin using the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse, which allows police emergency service dispatchers to receive location information from enabled Google Android phones and iPhones with iOS 12 or higher systems, said Karin Marquez of RapidSOS.

The service is free for public safety 911 centers, Marquez said, with data content providers paying. “It doesn’t replace anything which happens to the 911 call today,” Marquez said.

She was among those from the New York-based technology company who were on Maui this week to help train most of the 16 MPD dispatchers and three trainees to use the software.

In a news release, police said the first and most important question in every 911 call is ìWhat is the location of your emergency?

This is the first step to dispatching emergency responders as seconds saves lives in an emergency,î the news release said.

“Maui has a lot of tourists that may not know where they are when they’re having an emergency. They’re panicked, looking around. They may not be able to give very good information,” Marquez said. “It was very important to provide a solution to Maui County to help them locate not only the folks that live here but also the tourists and provide this lifesaving tool for them as well.”

Dispatchers run a query by typing in the 10-digit phone number of the caller and receive location information that will pinpoint the phone’s location within a radius of well under 50 meters, or 164 feet, Marquez said.

She recommended using the software “as often as possible, especially when a caller doesn’t know where they are, cannot speak or speaks a different language — anytime there’s a challenge.”

On Thursday, a dispatcher activated the software to track a 911 caller following a reckless driver, updating information as the caller traveled from Kahului Beach Road and Kaahumanu Avenue to Waiehu Beach Road before ending up at the McDonald’s drive-thru on Eha Street in Wailuku.

“It doesn’t have to be a lifesaving, crazy call,” Marquez said. “On any 911 call, we can get more accurate information to the responders.”

Racadio said she wants to see the software used for every 911 call.

“It’s a no-brainer,” she said. “This is the way technology is headed. We have to be prepared and protect our community the best we can do.

“I’m hoping we have a lot of great saves.”

Across the country, more than 2,500 911 centers are using the software, Marquez said. She said it has helped police officers locate domestic violence victims who weren’t able to stay on the phone after calling 911.

In one case, a mother who had veered off the road while driving was located, Marquez said.

“This can save lives,” she said.

She said the software could help someone trying to drive to the hospital in an unfamiliar area and might help show whether there’s movement in a building in active-shooter emergencies.

That’s information you provide to the responders, and that now improves their response,î Marquez said. ìAll of that has a positive ripple effect on the entire public safety response to improve that for the community.

Racadio said at least 80 percent of 911 calls are from cellphones. She noted that not every call will have location information, depending on the type of phone used.

Police are working with the Coast Guard to test the software for use in ocean rescues.

RapidSOS is working with Uber to implement the technology to integrate with the Maui County 911 system, according to the police news release.

“The Maui Police Department is proud to be at the forefront of 911 technology and always strives to provide the best possible service to its community,” said Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.