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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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