Since being classified as operating with some of the oldest 911 equipment in the state, Macon County’s 911 center gained approval from commissioners last week to upgrade the system.
With a combination of state 911 funds and the reallocation of existing funds within the local 911 budget, Macon County will be purchasing a new phone switch that will allow text and picture messaging to be used in and for emergency communication.
Emergency Service Director David Key informed the board of commissioners during the December meeting that the current phone switch used in the 911 department is 20 years old, which stands as the oldest system in the state. Key explained that in the event the current phone switch failed, which is likely due to its age, residents would be unable to contact 911.
Few upgrades have been done to the county’s 911 system since its inception. In October 1993, the system was upgraded and the staff was doubled, putting two dispatchers on per shift. With a call volume of 12,000 in 1994, today, the call volume has reached 32,000, a 267 percent increase despite the lack of upgrade in equipment or staffing levels.
Of the 100 counties in the state, 99 counties belong to the Emergency Call Tracking System (ECaTs) program. Due to its outdated equipment, Macon County is the only county not participating. ECaTs allows for a universal 911 call reporting system to provide real time updates statewide. With the equipment upgrade, Macon County will join the rest of the state.
Key explained that the majority of funds for the upgrade would come from state 911 funds generated through surcharges on phone lines. Residents with landlines pay $1 per month and cell phone bills are charged $.80 per month. The monies collected from local residents are placed in a statewide pot of 911 funds. The state disburses the funds by requests from counties for various projects.
“If we don’t spend the money, someone else in the state will,” explained Key. “I would like to see the money generated in Macon County, returned to Macon County for use. There are specific guidelines that the state money can be used for such as computer and phone upgrades, which is why we can use it for this.”
Key explained that the new phone switch will allow residents to not only send text and picture messages to the local dispatch, the range of information dispatch will be able to generate from a call with also improve efficiency. The upgrade will allow the phone number, address, location and name of the phone owner to be automatically generated to 911 computers. If a call is lost and that lifesaving information was not able to be given verbally, the new equipment will now record it through phone records.
Key explained that due to the urgency of the project and the need to upgrade the equipment, the state approved the majority of the funding. The total cost of the system upgrade comes in at $544,411. The remaining $195,946 will come from a 911 fund balance appropriation. The money in the 911 fund balance is generated based on an annual state allotment for equipment upgrades. The funds will allow for the purchase of a new 911 phone controller for the main dispatch site as well as one for the disaster recovery site.
Understanding the importance of the system upgrade, commissioners unanimously voted to approve the project.