Portage County 911 system to see major upgrade

Morgan Day


Credit: Jason Hall

It won’t be a shot in the dark for Portage County emergency personnel to locate cell phone users who don’t know where they are when the county’s new 911 system is implemented.

“If you were in the trunk of a car and you dialed 911 and left your phone on and never said a word to us, we could find that phone within 100 feet of where it’s at,” said Jon Barber, director of Portage County Emergency Management Agency. The updated 911 system is expected to be completed within the next three to four months.

Barber said all wireless calls are currently handled by the Sheriff’s Office, one of six Public Safety Access Points (PSAP) in Portage County. The upgrade will be beneficial because, instead of wireless calls going directly to the Sheriff’s Office, they will automatically go to the appropriate agency.

The new system will also enable emergency personnel at each PSAP to see the address of a wireless caller via a mapping system on their computer screens.

“Part of the system that we’re putting in place is a mapping system – what they call a CAD system,” Barber said. “When the call comes in, it’ll actually pop up on the screen where it is on a map so we can see that.”

Cathy Feigert, dispatch sergeant at the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, said the upgrade will be an advantage because it will eliminate rerouting by the Sheriff’s Office.

She said the Sheriff’s Office receives a great number of wireless calls since it is the only PSAP that can receive them. When the new system is installed, less calls will go directly to the office, which will relieve some of the stress numerous calls at one time can cause.

In addition, Feigert said the department receives some unnecessary calls because people often don’t realize cell phones with charged batteries can still dial 911, even if the user isn’t paying for a monthly package.

Barber said the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio gave the county appropriate funding two weeks ago to start updating the 911 mainframe, which is the first step in the upgrade. Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito is now dividing the money to distribute to each PSAP.

The five-year project is expected to cost $700,000. Barber said EMA is asking the Portage County Commissioners for the money upfront and will pay $300,000 the first year and $400,000 throughout the span of four years.

Funding to implement the system comes from a 32 cent surcharge on cell phone bills, which goes into the Wireless 9-1-1 Government Assistance Fund. Other grants, along with Homeland Security, can also supplement the costs, according to a recent Crescent-News (Defiance) article.

“The other PSAPs, knowing this was going to happen, they’ve all developed their system as they’ve been going along, and so a lot of the money that they’re going to receive is for reimbursement to their general fund,” Barber said. “But their systems have been built and in place, so as soon as we get the 911 component mainframe up and running, they should be ready to roll.”

However, there will be a six-month “tweaking period” to make adjustments with the mapping system after the mainframe is implemented, he said.

“We’re on the fast track to get it done because we’ve been planning for it,” Barber said.

Contact safety reporter

Morgan Day at [email protected].