No one hopes to have to call 911 but it’s good to know that if you do, you’ve got the best technology working for you.
The current 911 technology used to take your call, tell us where you are, gather health information, and get our emergency responders to you is exceptional. The arrival of the digital age in 911 services has been transformative and lives are being saved because of it.
Like most things in life, the new 911 technology doesn’t come cheap and that’s put a lot of pressure on smaller cities and villages to keep pace.
Many smaller cities saw the writing on the wall and rather than trying to take on major investments in new technology, they partnered with their neighbors to pool their resources and share dispatch services.
Many places already shared the costs of expensive fire apparatus ($1 million fire ladder trucks for example) so when faced with potentially budget breaking costs in new 911 technology partnering was natural.
A lot of the 911 changes in Ohio came about from changes in State law that affected the number of 911 call centers across the State. Way back, with the arrival of wireless cellphones, local city 911 systems were required to develop the capacity to receive, locate and respond to those wireless calls just like hard lines.
In order to help cities pay for the wireless expansion of 911 the State established a new fee on cell phone calls and those fees were set aside to help cities upgrade technology to integrate the wireless 911 calls into local service capabilities. To be eligible for the funds, each County had to adopt a wireless 911 plan that demonstrated how the 911 call centers operating in the County planned to comply with the new wireless requirements.
Some counties adopted a county managed 911 plan but many, like Portage County, encouraged progress towards county-wide consistency in the long term but left each City to make their own decisions on how to provide the wireless 911 services.
Over the last 3-5 years the State has changed gears and amended the 911 funding to push for greater consolidation of the numerous 911 call centers working throughout Ohio. The State set a limit of no more than 3 “official” 911 centers in each County and in Kent we’ve seen a gradual “virtual” consolidation through the use of shared and compatible 911 systems between the City of Kent and Kent State University.
I say “virtual” because the technology shared between Kent and Kent State dispatch runs on the same platform and although KSU staff answer the calls that are routed to them — and we have our dispatch staff answer calls that come to us — we have instantaneous back-up with one another and we can immediately see any information that appears on their dispatch screens and they can immediately see ours as well — hence, “virtual” consolidation of services without physically sharing the same location.
Fast forward and the State is now talking about amending the law further to push for “real” rather than “virtual” consolidation which as you can imagine has many cities, townships and counties wondering about the future of their local 911 service.
At this point the State has not provided any clear guidance on where they are heading with the law but we’re watching closely since we’re already working with Kent State to make investment decisions for the Next Generation 911 technology that will include even more 911 caller data, including emergency texting and video capability over the phone.