Phone upgrade paves way for new 911 technology

Friday, November 18, 2011 | 5:02 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Public Safety Joint Communications department has taken a step into the future with the purchase of a nearly $600,000 phone system upgrade.

The upgrade is a platform shift from copper wire-based systems to an Internet Protocol-based system, said Brian Maydwell, Public Safety Joint Communications system support analyst.

"This is where 911 is heading in the future, and this upgrade puts us in a position to be ready for newer communications standards as well as several other benefits," he said.

Zim Schwartze, director of Joint Communications and the Office of Emergency Management, said the new direction of emergency call technology, called Next Generation 911, will likely enable the use of streaming video, photos and SMS texts.

"We're trying to prepare for that now," she said.

Schwartze said the benefits of the software, Cassidian Communication's Sentinel Patriot, include:

  • The ability to obtain better statistics;
  • Saving on annual maintenance costs;
  • The ability to associate a name with the phone number a person is calling from;
  • The possibility of routing calls to another area dispatch center in case of emergencies; and
  • The ability to move half the system equipment to another location as a backup measure in case the main location fails.

If there was a fire at the dispatch center, as there was on Nov. 6, this upgrade will provide a smoother transition for operators. They will be able to go from their building to the backup dispatch center and have the upgraded phone system at both locations, Schwartze said.

In this situation, Columbia residents would be able to call 911 normally, instead of being asked to only call if there were a life-threatening emergency.

The department is already working with Cassidian and CenturyLink to implement the upgrade, Schwartze said. She said she has been working on getting the upgrade for a year.

Right now, the department has Cassidian equipment, but the Patriot system is more advanced. Although it's recommended that the department upgrade every five years, it has been 10 years since major upgrades have been done, Schwartze said.

The approximately $597,000 for the software upgrade came from the department's E911 fund, which can only be used for phone system upgrades and is monitored by Boone County.

Money from the E911 fund comes from a 2 percent tax that landline phone users pay each month on their phone bill, Schwartze said.

A Missouri House committee is in the process of drafting a 911 call center bill that would impose a tax on cellphone users, too.

Former Boone County presiding commissioner Ed Robb approved the purchase before his death in September.

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