The North Carolina 911 Board finalized a deal Friday to bring the state’s emergency services into the digital age by 2020, and Richmond County’s new Emergency Services Complex will make the make that transition all the more smooth.
The deal secured a seven-year, $99 million contract with AT&T to begin transitioning the “backbone” of communication between all 177 of the state’s 911 centers, built in the 1960’s, to an Internet-based system called ESInet that will open up new avenues of communication between centers, according to the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.
Richmond County’s soon-to-be-completed Emergency Services Complex was built in anticipation for this transition, according to Donna Wright, director of emergency services.
Wright said that the new complex makes Richmond County’s emergency services “next-gen ready”. Eventually, as a result of this project, 911 centers will be able to receive pictures and videos from callers.
“The hope is that Richmond County will be one of the first counties [to get the upgrade],” Wright said. “This is about being able to utilize what citizens’ technology capabilities are.”
The 911 upgrades are paid through a 60-cent monthly fee on mobile and landline phone devices, according to the Associated Press.
The current system is based on copper wire about as thick as the lead of a pencil. This analog system does not allow 911 centers to transfer calls and other data across some jurisdictions, slowing response times.
The digital upgrade will install cables that are three to four inches thick, capable of allowing all of North Carolina’s 911 centers to transfer calls between each other, and serve as back-up in case of a natural disaster. The upgrade will also provide more accurate location data to dispatchers, according to Richard Taylor, executive director of the North Carolina 911 Board.
Taylor said that the limitations of the current system are most apparent when dealing with cellphones, which account for 75 percent of 911 calls. Cellphones aren’t linked to any street address and because of this, help could be sent to the wrong area. The new system will make it much easier to collect latitude and longitude data from callers so that the proper emergency response teams can be notified.
“This system will be geo-spatially adapted so calls will be more accurately delivered to the correct entities,” Taylor said. “That’s huge.”
Taylor said that the state is unsure which counties will go first or second, and that the board is taking a “statewide perspective” on implementing the new system.
“We’re looking at it in terms of ‘where is the biggest need’ — whether we need to make an investment now because their equipment is at the end of its life,” Taylor said.
The infrastructure for the new system is currently under construction. The first systems will start being put in place after Jan. 1, 2018, according to Taylor.
“Emergency response is often triggered by a 911 call, so the more information a 911 operator is able to receive and relay, the more prepared first responders will be when they arrive on scene,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry of the Department of Public Safety. “The ability to communicate easily between all 911 centers will greatly improve the ability of counties to help each other during emergencies.”
Other benefits of the upgrade include new security measures to protect against cyber threats, according the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674.