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Early Successes Evident with Harvey County, Kan., Next-Gen 911 System

Since the system’s launch Oct. 26, officials are already noting improvements in how they handle emergency calls for service.

by Kelly Breckunitch, The Newton Kansan / November 1, 2017
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(TNS) -- Inside the heart of the Emergency Operations Center, Harvey County dispatch personnel have been being dealing with a lot of change over the past couple of weeks. The county's new Next Generation 911 (NG911) system went live as of Oct. 26, and commissioners saw first hand how that has transformed the way in which 911 calls are processed during a tour of the center on Monday.

On the first day the new system went live, Communications Director Don Gruver said the advantages of the new system were made clear as calls started coming in about a grass fire in Sedgwick. With the new system, dispatch was able to quickly pinpoint the location of the fire and call in support from surrounding departments in Halstead, Newton, etc. — even some departments that were not paged by Harvey County 911 turned up to assist in the fire suppression efforts.

At the center of NG911, Gruver informed commissioners that the mapping resources are one of the biggest benefits of the new system. With 76 percent participation from Kansas counties in NG911, and each providing geographic data, the map-based system makes the process of locating callers much quicker. With the majority of calls now coming from cell phones, he added that residents turning on GPS services will aid in that process all the more.

"You can have that set for 911 only," Gruver said. "We encourage people to do that."

In addition to the mapping benefits of the new system, the fact of NG911 being a state initiative brings a host of positives for Harvey County 911 — from the state being in charge of equipment maintenance to the near uniformity of the system allowing the Emergency Operations Center to log into its own system at any other NG911 center across the state.

Text to 911 will also be going live in Harvey County, on Nov. 1 officially, with Gruver demonstrating that facet of the new system to commissioners and noting that while it does get information to dispatch, a call is still the best way to help pinpoint your location — part of the impetus being the statewide motto to "call when you can and text when you can't."

Calling, Gruver noted, is also a more streamlined way of getting information across to dispatchers, as he noted information sent via text cannot be copied and pasted into the computer-aided dispatch system.

"It' s a very tightly protected, closed network," Gruver said.

What the new system will also provide is an easier way for department administrators to plug in and help take calls in busy times — which Gruver noted the department has had its share of. So, while the upgrade to NG911 was not required, it is for reasons like that Harvey County 911 pursued the shift in technology.

"If you don't keep up with it, things start breaking down here," Gruver said, "and we can't have that."

©2017 The Newton Kansan, Kan. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.