County completes upgrade to 911 system
After more than 18 months of work, Taylor County’s 9-1-1 upgrade is completed.
According to sheriff Larry Woebbeking, the upgrades were necessary due to the age of the previous equipment and technology changes. The county’s dispatch center, located at the courthouse, is a hub of activity in handling emergency calls of all types.
Woebbeking explained the previous equipment was more than 20 years old and was showing its wear with increasing difficulty in finding replacement parts to keep the system running. With a price tag for the new system at about $400,000, he said they did not take asking the county to cover the upgrade costs lightly and tried to keep the old system running as long as possible.
This is not to say the system didn’t have its problems. There were longstanding concerns with calls from bordering exchange areas being routed to other counties due to the way the telephone exchanges were aligned. One particular concern was with the inability to easily transfer callers that needed assistance from a neighboring county to that county’s dispatch center. With the new system, dispatchers are able to easily transfer these calls without having to get off the phone with the caller.
Another major upgrade in the equipment is the ability to pinpoint the location of people who call into 9-1-1 on their cellphones. Getting cellphone calls for accidents, people lost while hiking or hunters injured in the woods is not uncommon for the county. Woebbeking explained that in the past they would have to contact the cellular provider, convince them that it was an actual emergency and have them ping the cellphone location from a nearby cell tower. Often this would only give a vague idea of where the individual was, delaying the response for emergency providers.
The new system is able to pick up the location of the cellphone immediately and allow the dispatchers see it on a computer map of the county. The longer the individual is on the line with the dispatcher the more accurate the location becomes.
By federal law, all charged cellular phones, even those that are no longer activated with a services provider are able to be used to make 9-1-1 calls. Woebbeking noted this is a good safety feature for emergencies to be able to contact 9-1-1. The challenge they are finding is with people who pass their old phones to their children to play with and the children accidentally calling 9-1-1. Woebbeking said these calls can clog dispatch delaying responses to legitimate callers and urged parents to be aware of what their children are doing on the devices.