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Leah Kaminsky-Levy
By
May 26, 2020

North Carolina First Responders Increase Range With Zello

Jimmy Brissie, Director of the Henderson County Emergency Services, and his team work within a community in North Carolina of about 125,000 people. The team responds across 375 square miles, and regularly sends first responders across the state for mutual aid purposes, such as to the coast of North Carolina to provide aid during hurricane season.

Limited by Traditional Land Mobile Radio Communications

Traditional land mobile radio communications may have limitations such as building construction types or geographic coverage areas. To address these limitations, in 2019, Brissie and his team installed an interoperability gateway to interface their radio system with the cloud. In researching software platforms with which their new gateway would work, they kept coming back to Zello. The ability to enroll in the Zello for First Responder program sealed the deal, and they’ve been using it ever since.

emergency-response-vehiclesHow Zello Helped 

“By leveraging Zello with our radio system, now we can access the same system using in-building WIFI to maintain communication even in those fringe areas for traditional radio coverage. Zello ensures our responders are still able to connect when we are out of our County or across the State.”

Zello has also proven useful when responding to natural disasters. During Hurricane Dorrian, Brissie and members of his team that were stationed on the coast used Zello to communicate back to team members in Western North Carolina using the Zello app for real time conversations. They also used it on the scene to communicate with other first responder organizations that joined the response from around the state.

“During a dynamic event we can create a conversation with different users on the fly by building an ad hoc channel with multiple users,” says Brissie. “[During Hurricane Dorrian], we were able to build an ad hoc channel right then to maintain communication for ourselves, just for that one event.”

Back home, they continued to expand the ways they used the app, turning to Zello to update dispatch during and after a response. Rather than using unsecure and cumbersome group texts to communicate with other first responders, they now take advantage of talk groups. Whether near home or far away, Zello has greatly reduced the need for the distribution of expensive radio equipment, enabling those without walkie talkies to communicate over their phones to those with radios, or to communicate directly to other push-to-talk phone users via the app. Brissie has found his team reaching for their radios even less, especially when they’re in the field rather than in a vehicle like a firetruck, ambulance, or patrol car.

First responder using Zello application on rugged device

Intuitive User Interface Promotes Adoption

“It’s a very lightweight product. It’s a very stable platform and it’s very intuitive,” says Brissie. “Folks that aren’t super tech savvy have been able to pick it up pretty well, and having that ability to maintain situational awareness is super beneficial. Once folks use it a day or two they’re pretty well dialed in. It’s created some really good operational efficiencies for us and given us a couple more levels of communication that we didn’t have before.”

How Zello helped:

  • The ability to use WiFi expanded the team’s range to better cover fringe areas in radio communications in difficult topography and construction.
  • Radio gateways and Zello-to-Zello communications allowed the team to communicate with one another and with other first responder organizations dynamically when responding to natural disasters far away from their base.
  • Talk groups helped the team communicate efficiently on their own devices without stopping to text, thereby helping to keep first responders’ attention and efforts focused on the scene.
  • Adoption was quick and easy due to an intuitive user interface that imitates the walkie talkie experience with which first responders are already familiar.

Learn how you can sign up your organization for the Zello for First Responders program today:

Apply to the FREE first responder program