Intrusive Data Monitoring or an Added Margin of Safety?

The Hardwick Police Report in last week’s issue, identifying a 911 call as being made by an iPhone activation, struck me as unique.

Hardwick’s Police Chief, Michael Henry, found it to be unique too. It turns out to have been the first time he was aware that an automated cell phone call resulted in dispatching the Hardwick Police Department (HPD) to the scene of an accident.

911 calls for HPD mostly come through the Lamoille County Sheriff’s office in Hyde Park that acts as the dispatcher for HPD. Dispatcher and Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Hannon there said that they can see as many as four to ten calls during a 12-hour shift from their catchment area that includes all of Lamoille County, Hardwick, Greensboro and Barre Town.

Hannon shared that calls peak in the winter because skiers sometimes stop suddenly when they fall, but that accidental 911 calls happen year round because a phone is accidentally activated in a pocket.

It’s not always quite as obvious that a call represents a real emergency as it was when the Route 15 call in Hardwick came in and screaming was heard in the background. When calls do come in, 911 dispatchers have a number of techniques to determine what’s happened. If there’s no contact they might hang up and call back. The GPS location provided with the call sometimes allows them to pinpoint a nearby location to which a call can be made.

When there’s any doubt about whether there’s a real emergency, dispatchers request appropriate assistance.

It’s not just cell phones either, some cars are equipped with tracking devices and smart features that can make 911 calls in an accident too.

Learning more about this, I was struck by how concerned many of us are not to share our data with others; we turn on ad blockers to prevent companies from tracking us. Some people are suspicious of Alexa and Google smart home devices, some go so far as to cover the cameras on their computers with opaque tape to prevent accidental, or worse – intentional – spying.

As many of us work to prevent unwanted data sharing, how many of us stop to think about the benefits that sharing personal data might bring in an accident. It can provide a level of safety that was impossible a generation ago.

The need might not always be quite as obvious as it was for a bunch of drunk teenagers upside down in a roadside ditch with significant injuries. For them, a cell phone call to 911 brought swift and perhaps life-saving assistance.

Next time you are concerned about sharing personal data, give some thought to ways that it might someday save your life.

Paul Fixx, editor

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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