New 911 system in place
The new digital 911 emergency dispatch system is finally up and running, despite a delay caused by a defective piece of equipment in August which pushed the launch back a couple months.
“We are still troubleshooting some of the minor problems (regarding) transferring to other 911 systems and have a couple meetings set this week to try and finalize these issues,” Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director Lt. Rich Hays said in an email. “With the new system in place, the next phase, which will take place sometime after the first of the year, is requesting the phone companies to process texting to 911.”
The issue this summer revolved around a server that had to be sent back to the manufacturer for repairs because it was “not allowing the information to flow the way it’s supposed to,” according to Hays. This problem kept the system from being totally secure and susceptible to hacking. Those issues have all been taken care of though, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brian Rhodes, who is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s dispatch center along with Major Troy Hawkins since Hays moved over to the EMA position. Hays said that he is still handling the activities for the 911 coordinator, assigning the 911 addresses and issues with 911 equipment.
“There have not been any complaints from dispatch, other than the growing pains of learning a new system,” Rhodes said. “The next phase will make it easier to receive text messages.”
Hays said that texting 911 will basically be just like texting to another cell phone.
“The information will be received by the dispatcher and they will type back the response and send just like texting,” he said. “The main advantage to texting 911 would be for the deaf, hard of hearing, speech disabled or for the safety of the person texting. It is always recommended to call 911 instead of texting.”
Anna Haugh has been a dispatcher with the sheriff’s office for seven years and said the new system is not much different than the system they had been using.
“The NexGen people came and had us go through the process. It’s not really different other than everything comes up on the computer and it’s easier to transfer calls through the click of a mouse rather than picking up the phone,” Haugh said.
Rhodes and Haugh both noted that the new system allows calls to be banked rather than the public not being able to reach someone. A major emergency would sometimes tie up the dispatchers and now calls can be rolled over, either to the Marietta Police Department or Belpre Police Department.
“It shows us the phone number of the person who’s calling and allows us to call them back,” Haugh said. “It also allows us to pinpoint the caller’s location through the phone’s GPS.”
The Next Generation system brings the antiquated 911 system into the digital era, allowing the system to receive text messages, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calls that originate from computers and video and photo files.
Rhodes said he believes the implementation of this new digital system puts the county at an advantage over other areas.
“I would say we’re up to the standards of other comparable-sized counties, maybe even ahead of the curve,” he said.
Voters approved a 0.35-mill, five-year levy in November to bolster the county’s emergency dispatch system. The levy, expected to raise about $440,000 a year, helped pay for the new digital system and will support continued operations of the county’s three 911 call centers, two in Marietta and one in Belpre.
The levy will continue through 2020. The cost for property owners amounts to about $13 a year on a house valued at $100,000. The additional funding became necessary for the county not just because of the capital expense for the dispatch system but also because revenue for the county from landline phones has been declining and there is a cap on the amount that can be levied on cellphone users.
According to Hays, the state has not mandated the upgrade to NG-911 at this time.
“The state has passed some rules and requirements that will start in 2018 that will be required. Those requirements will include a total number of phone calls, total number of phone calls by type of carrier and time frame for each call to be answered,” he explained. “With our old equipment we could not record this information. The decision was made based on our outdated equipment at all three of our dispatch centers.”
He said the previous equipment was purchased back in 2004.
“We were starting to have issues with the equipment,” he said. “The equipment was no longer covered under any service contract due to availability of parts for repairs. The commissioners saw the need to upgrade our 911 equipment after recommendations from the Technical Advisory Committee.”
At a glance
Next Generation 911 System
≤ Digital system to replace analog.
≤ Can receive, share and store texts, photos and videos from cellphones and calls placed from computers and other devices.
≤ Better pinpointing of cellphone locations.
≤ Able to network with other emergency centers during disasters and other events that overload lines or interrupt service.
≤ Capital cost to county of about $380,000.
≤ Initial cost and continued operations funded by a five-year 0.35 mill levy.
Source: Washington County Commissioners, govtech.com