October 26, 2021

New system enhances menu of 911 features

Photo illustration by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

The use of Next Generation 911 offers expanded use of GPS in pinpointing exact locations of emergencies. The system also allows the public to send voice recordings, photos, videos and text messages through the 911 network to emergency responders, according to 911.gov.

Within the next five years, Cortland County residents may be able to text 911 in the event of an emergency, if the county proceeds with a comprehensive upgrade of the 911 system.

“Any device, Any Place, Any Time” is the motto for Next Generation 911, a new system that will expand the use of GPS in pinpointing the exact location of an emergency for response crews.

The system is already used in Tompkins County after the county received a $500,000 grant for the upgrade. Cortland County is waiting for the state standards governing what is required of counties to implement Next Generation 911 before securing new equipment, which would be funded through phone and internet surcharges.
Scott Roman, director of emergency response for Cortland County, touted Next Generation 911’s benefits in a recent interview.

The purpose of Next Generation 911 is to improve the 911 system that has been in effect for more than 40 years, according to 911.gov.

The system allows digital information like voice recordings, photos, videos and text messages to be sent from the public, through the 911 network and delivered to emergency responders, according to the website.

The new system also enhances the 911 GPS and extends it to IP addresses, said Roman. This should make response time faster, since it will decrease the time it takes from when a call comes in to 911 to when dispatchers convey that information to emergency responders.

Next Generation 911 also uses a coordinate system of X, Y and Z, Roman said. This means not only can the dispatch center see the X and Y coordinates of a person’s location, but also the Z, height, of the location, Roman said. “If someone is on the 10th floor of a building, we could see that,” Roman said.

As far as securing the new system in Cortland County, Roman said that small steps are being taken. “We’re trying to accept texting first,” he said.

Roman pegged the price tag on the new system and its technology and upgrades, “in the millions of dollars range”.

Even though a cost for the system is unknown, Roman said it would be funded through phone and internet surcharges as opposed to property tax increases. The reason behind this is the new system would be based on the number of users and not the physical property address of the users, Roman said.

Next Generation will not rely on a physical address to pinpoint a caller, with the idea that people are constantly on the move, Roman said.

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said any information for emergency response crews is always a good thing. “I think that any type of situation that we are going to where more information can be gained quickly can make our job better,” Helms said.

Charles Glover, fire chief for the city, also agrees more information in times of an emergency is good. “Any time we have a message that enhances our ability to get an early response it helps,” Glover said.

The system is being gradually phased in in Tompkins County, said Lee Shurtleff, director of Tompkins County Emergency Services.

Tompkins County has already acquired a state grant for $500,000 to begin purchasing equipment for the new system, Shurtleff said. Tompkins County has a new phone system in place that can receive the texting portion of the Next Generation System, he said.

Staffing in Tompkins County will need to be increased to handle the new data coming in from the system, Shurtleff said.

Staffing in Cortland County with a new system would also increase, Roman said, though by how much is unclear. The new staff would be phased in by increments as the new technology is installed, Roman said.

Over at the 911 dispatch center for Cortland County, five dispatch stations for county fire and police, as well as two stations for TLC Emergency Medical Services ambulance, fill the center on the third floor of the Public Safety Building.

The county uses the Spillman System for 911 dispatching, said Dispatch Coordinator Gene Caufield. Caufield has been with the dispatch center for about 17 years.

The Spillman System has been in use by the county for about a year and a half and before that New World was the system used, Caufield said. If someone calls from a landline, the system can pick up the caller’s location right away, he said.

If the caller is using a wireless phone, the coordinates of the closest cell tower are identified, Caufield said. From there, the cell phone can be “pinged” by the tower and a closer range of the caller’s location is given.

With Next Generation 911, a more exact location would be given on cellular calls because the call would not have to be pinged off of towers, relying instead on the exact GPS coordinates of the call.