New 911 system goes online
Dec 20, 2012 (The Jamestown Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
By Kari Lucin
The Jamestown Sun
With no interruption of service, Stutsman County's next-generation 911 equipment was installed Wednesday, preparing the county for that day in the future when people will be able to send texts, pictures and videos to dispatchers.
"We're all kind of in the same boat," said Jason Horning, next-generation 911 program manager with the North Dakota Association of Counties. "The thing we're waiting for is the development of next-generation 911 architecture."
Those systems are still being developed, and there are a number of problems to solve before they can be put into place.
For example, the four largest cellphone companies have voluntarily agreed to offer services allowing people to text 911 by May 15, 2014. And the equipment Stutsman County has purchased will help its 911 service to handle that, when the time comes.
Stutsman County's new equipment cost it $163,000, and it is pairing together with Richland County, whose equipment cost $158,000. Costs were paid from 911 funding accumulated and saved over years by both counties.
"As of this afternoon, this is a different world for us," said Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator.
Stutsman County's previous system had been in place since 1999, but it was based on the analog telephone technology created in the 1970s and 1980s.
"At the heart of the network, we are still using circuits that limit our ability to communicate with the public," Horning explained.
The public doesn't just communicate by voice, but also by text, photos and video, he said.
Some of these applications are especially useful for the deaf and hearing-impaired community, some of whose members depend on texting to communicate with the outside world, Horning said.
Though the 911 systems in Fargo and Grand Forks are tied together in some ways, each of the systems is technically a standalone, Bergquist said.
In contrast, Richland County and Stutsman County share a single system split between two locations.
Eventually they will be able to serve as backups to each other, Bergquist said. To do that, though, both communications centers will have to update their policies and procedures on handling each other's 911 calls, and radio protocols will need to be changed.
"The soonest we can look at a new radio system is 2014," Bergquist said. "The technology is developing there, too."
Already, the system has more redundancies than it did in the past.
For example, 911 service in Stutsman County was disrupted twice over the summer when a cable was cut. If that happened now, Bergquist said, service would continue uninterrupted.
Rather than a single umbilical cord connecting everything to 911, the new system provides a web of links out, Horning said.
That means a lot more redundancy, Bergquist added.
"The goal is to make sure that the caller doesn't have to do anything different than they do today," Horning said.
The changeover in Stutsman County began at 4 a.m. early Wednesday morning, and was largely completed by 2 p.m., though some adjustments will be done throughout the next few weeks.
"Everything is programmable, and we will be able to adjust how it works," Bergquist said. "This is a learning process. We're evolving right now."
He expects the benefits to outweigh the inconvenience of changing to next-generation 911 equipment.
"The benefactors here are going to be the public," Bergquist said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be
reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at
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