After years of operating on outdated communication practices, the city and county of Ashtabula, Ohio, have updated their 911 technology to bring them “into the future.”
The project consolidates four CAD systems into one; reduces the number of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPS) from six to two; and provides for connectivity and interoperability that wasn’t there before.
The discussion on bringing the city and county up to date began 10 years ago and really kicked off after a study in 2013 on what was needed to develop the kind of public safety dispatching that would be efficient and up to date. That study, by L.R. Kimball, was used as the “bible” for the project, according to Mike Fitchet, the county’s emergency management director.
“The study looked at everything,” Fitchet said. “What kind of radio system to have; all our dispatch centers; how many PSAPS we should have; how it should be designed; were we using the same radio frequencies. We’ve pretty much done what the study said we could do and kicked it off a week and a half ago.”
He said one of the first things the study found was that the four CADs didn’t talk each other and neither did the PSAPs. That had to change.
The new system allows for all the agencies to be connected to the CAD system, an ID Networks system, where calls are funneled to the proper dispatch center. As the calls come into the system, all agencies are able to view what’s coming in through the system.
All too often, calls were misidentified or dropped and information was lost. “Now you have CAD screens that are populated now with all these units,” Fitchet said. “And now when an officer on the southern part of the county picks up somebody with a gun, that information gets loaded into the system, and days later, if this guy is picked up again, there’s a warning in the system on this guy.”
The PSAP in the county receives all wireless and landline calls from the county, except for one incorporated area of one city. The city PSAP receives its own landline calls but the rest of its calls go through the county PSAP.
The two PSAPs are far more efficient than having six, Fitchet said. “When you have six PSAPs, things get bounced around and there are delays. “We don’t anticipate that anymore.
“The call taker puts the call into the system and it goes to whichever dispatch center it’s supposed to go to,” Fitchet said. “The technology allows us to do that rather than go, ‘Wait a minute, let me look in this book to see where this call is supposed to go.’”
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell told the Ashtabula Star Beacon that it used to sometimes take up to an hour to brief other police agencies on certain calls, but that it’s now instantaneous.
The system operates on a fiber ring for redundancy. There are four servers — two with the county and two with the city — and they all do the same thing. “We really wanted to have that in case something went down, and we were in fail mode at one site or another,” Fitchet said.
The system so far has cost the county a bit more than $1.5 million and comes from wireless cell service fees. “We knew we were going to do this, so we were saving money,” Fitchet said. “We saved $1.5 million.”