911 Dispatch Plans to Revamp System

Katy Brown

Portage County 911 dispatch is due for upgrades. With three people working the dispatch taking 300 to 400 incoming calls and dispatching tasks to officers during any given afternoon, it is anything but calm.

“[The dispatchers are] keeping logs and trying to maintain vigilance as far as where the deputies are at, what they’re doing, how many cars are out,” said David Doak, Portage County Sheriff, “so it’s a lot of stress back there.”

With two upgrades in the horizon, the CAD system and the Next Generation 911, Sheriff Doak is hoping to lighten the load for workers. The CAD system alone would separate the dispatch into two teams: one taking the incoming while another team dispatches emergencies to police. Although splitting up the work will lighten the burden on dispatchers, Sheriff Doak knows this is only a temporary fix and “the answer is going to be more people.”

More options will become available as the Next Generation 911 gets up and running. Jon Barber, Portage County Emergency Management Director, has high hopes for the Next Generation. To him, the most important addition with the Next Generation system is it allows for less repetition in dispatching.

Price tag of new 911

The Next Generation 911 system has a big price tag attached to it. According to Jon Barber, Portage County Emergency Management Director, one operating system would cost anywhere from $900,000 to $1.3 million. Luckily, Portage County has three options when it comes to how they are going to chose and pay for the new system.

The most expensive choice is to place a new system in each of the townships. Therefore each township would have to pay between $900,000 to $1.3 million each to receive the New Generation dispatch.

Portage County could also base one system out of Ravenna and pay only one payment of $900,000 to $1.3 million. If they were to choose this route, the solo dispatch “would support the entire county,” said Barber. The entire county contains thirteen 911 system and would add 3 more for Mantua, Hiram, and Garrettsville.

Finally, the third option for Portage County would be AT&T leasing the system to the police agency. Each of the 16 seats Portage wants to include in the transition would have to pay $1500 a month to AT&T, which would be a grand total of $288,000 a year.

Fortunately for Portage County, legislators in Columbus got a head start on saving money for the new system.

“The legislators in Columbus established a fee to wireless cell phones, it was 31 cents at the time, to build this capability so the money was collected…from the phone companies,” said Barber, “they dispersed [the money] out to the counties based on the people’s cell phone use in that county.”

Portage County Sheriff David Doak and Barber are hoping to see the new system in place by the end of 2012.

Currently in Portage County there are some towns, like Mantua, Hiram, and Garrettsville, who do not have a dispatch center. If a resident in one of those areas were to call 911, their call would go to the Sheriff’s dispatch in Ravenna. The caller would inform dispatch of their emergency, dispatch would transfer the call to the appropriate agency, and the caller would then need to repeat their emergency to the new dispatcher. The new system will fix that problem of repetition.

“We could add answering positions,” said Barber, “So in other words we could give an answering position to Mantua and Garrettsville and to Hiram and we could actually route calls directly to those dispatch centers as opposed to having them to be answered here and transferred to those dispatch centers.”

The New Generation system will also incorporate texting, video streaming, and photo messaging as ways to communicate with 911 during emergencies. Before Next Generation comes into action, Portage County police rely on video from retail stores and other security cameras to help solve crimes. Now with the video streaming option coming into play, Sheriff Doak says it may help a lot with the fight against crime.

“The video streaming I think could be important,” said Doak, “if there’s a car in an area that’s suspicious and somebody has the good sense to…get that car on video.”

Barber agrees saying the new technology will be essential in emergencies like the Virginia Tech shooting. Texting 911 would allow for people to keep quiet and hidden while contacting 911. Because of these advances and upgrades, Portage County will be able to achieve what Barber believes is their number goal.

“At the end of the day what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to provide the best quickest service to the citizens, the people that are calling 911,” said Barber, “we don’t want the system to get bogged down that it takes time to get those people the help they need.”