City’s new 911 call system employs mapping technology

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Apr. 19, 2007 - Sulphur Springs Police Department Communications Division Wednesday morning began the final stages of converting to a new 911 system which will better enable them to locate callers using mapping technologies, SSPD Assistant Chief Robert Stidham said.

Staff Photo by Angela PItts

Communication Supervisor Nancy Stillwagoner works with the upgraded 911 system Wednesday morning at the Sulphur Springs Police Department.

Bids were taken for the system, with Ark-Tex Council Of Governments awarding the bid to Southwestern Bell/AT&T to replace monitoring and network equipment at a cost of about $82,000, according to Stidham and ATCOG 911 Program Manager Sandie Embrey. The funding for the updates comes from the 50-cent 911 tax on phone bills. ATCOG will maintain the system at a cost of $60,000 to $70,000 a year.

The system is the first of two phases to improve 911 technology. In this phase, mapping technology was installed which shows the location from which a 911 call was made from a land line or the area of the cell phone tower when a mobile phone is used, Stidham explained. In addition, the automatic location identifier gives the caller’s telephone number, name and address.

The technology also makes transferring calls from police to emergency medical services dispatchers easier too. Now, police dispatchers only have to push a button for instance access to EMS dispatchers. Previously, there was a delay between dispatch centers because the system had to dial up the number. Sometimes, that meant loss of calls.

It also automatically faxes the automatic location identifier information to the EMS dispatch center, so if for some reason a call is dropped, the EMS dispatcher can call the person back and know where to send an ambulance crew.

Phase two of upgrades, which won’t be implemented for a few years, will provide more accurate information for wireless callers, Embrey said.

�It�s just like the system at the sheriff�s office,� Embrey said of the Vesta Pallas system put online two weeks ago at Hopkins County Sheriff�s Office. Hopkins County was the fourth of nine counties in the ATCOG area to receive the upgrades so far.

Stidham said that the 911 system will still enable people who have a telephone but no active service to dial 911 from a home phone or an charged cell phone and be connected with an emergency operator. He cautions however that callers should only dial 911 for emergencies, not for information services.

�In the event of an emergency, they can pick up the phone and dial 911 and it will ring the 911 call center....� If you�re in an accident but don�t have established cell phone service, you can still dial 911 if you can get out,� said Stidhma, who added that callers will need to stay on the line after making the call. �The 911 operator does have a way to make contact with the cell phone provider to locate you. It�s not instantaneous � there are numbers they have to go through to meet the requirements of law for assistance. But stay with them and talk with them.�

The new system will also allow city dispatchers to transfer their 911 calls to the county operations center to ensure they are answered in the event the police station has to be evacuated or the system is interrupted.

The assistant police chief also noted the system protects the callers’ information as required by state and local laws and the terms of the contract agreement, so don’t try to use police as a reverse telephone directory.

�Privacy is of utmost importance,� Stidham said. �Don�t call us with a number and ask �Who is it?� We can�t give it to you. Officers here can�t just bring a number in to dispatch to find out who it belongs to, either. That�s a violation of policy. Any violation will be subject to prosecution up to a felony offense. We take a stern view on this.�

He also said that if a person calls 911 and for some reason can’t get through on that line, they can still dial the police department’s main number (903-885-7602).

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