Jackson County first in WV to deploy new comms tech

RIPLEY — Law enforcement agencies in Jackson County are in the process of setting up a new tool that will speed up response time and enhance communications, and they’re the first in West Virginia to do so.

A recurring theme across first-responder training courses is every second counts and time saves lives. To that end, Jackson County Sheriff Tony Boggs said his office, along with the Jackson County Courthouse, have adopted the IN FORCE 911, or IF911, desktop and mobile app.

Developed by Boston-based In Force Technology LLC, this app has been shown to reduce emergency response times from minutes to seconds by directly sending alerts from users to terminals and mobile devices of officers in a specified area, thereby navigating around conventional dispatch methods.

Boggs said it’s a tool that hopefully won’t have to be used, but is a valuable asset to have just in case.

“Our courthouse, like most rural courthouses … we have door locks and security and this measure and that measure, but we have very little ability to communicate en masse with whatever the threats or dangers may be, and this appeared to be an app that covered it as well as anything I’d seen,” he said. “I thought we could use it to upgrade our safety with city and county employees. It was a school issue we were looking at initially, and after looking at it, I thought we could utilize here. We don’t have an intercom system or any way to communicate with the courthouse personnel in a mass directive.”

Boggs said this app enables one-button click communication in the event of an emergency. While such a tool to reduce response time is a benefit in any situation, he noted the particular usefulness in more rural jurisdictions, where response times might already take several minutes.

“Not that it takes long to go through dispatch, but any time we get direct, direct information — there’s no in between lag and or miscommunication [the better],” he said.

Since deputies can’t be everywhere at once, Boggs said police departments in Ravenswood and Ripley are also adopting IF911. The app was also demonstrated to local school officials.

Brandon Flanagan, the CEO of In Force Technology, said he co-founded the company with his father a few years ago. The two have at various points worked alongside law enforcement and homeland security.

“We both looked at each other one day and asked, ‘What can we do to make police responses for any active threat — say at a school — more effective, more efficient and ultimately save lives?’” he said. “Understanding the nuances that exist today through the traditional 911 infrastructure, there are some things we can address right away. We wanted to create a product that could do just that.”

Flanagan said it was not his goal to outright bypass local 911 centers, but he noticed a trend. If a large-scale situation erupts, the call centers will be inundated with calls, all relating to the same incident almost instantly. He said if only six dispatchers are on duty at the time and they have to take 30 calls, some vital information can get lost in translation or some calls might get dropped.

Flanagan said one call that falls through might have the most important information to convey to law enforcement. However, IF911 isn’t just limited to speeding up response time.

He said it also removes a vital communications barrier. The app features a chat function that allows the user who sent out the alert to communicate in real time to the responding officer. This is important because the users can relay suspect information to first responders rather than waiting to take a statement in person.

The app also has access to floor plans, building layouts, the rooms from which users send out an alert and even security camera footage which helps police locate victims more effectively while also tracking a suspect’s movement. Since a 911 call typically warrants a multifaceted response, local EMS and fire departments can also make use of the app.

Flanagan said that while the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department is the first in West Virginia to adopt the system, that will hopefully soon change, as In Force Technology is in talks regarding the app’s adoption in Wyoming, Ohio, Nicholas, Logan and Marshall counties.

Beyond the Mountain State, he said IF911 has been adopted all along the East Coast from rural communities in northern Maine to south Florida.