A serial prankster may have thought his 911 calls about fake emergencies were amusing, but law enforcement officials in Morgan County, Ala., had the last laugh in September, busting the caller and his accomplice thanks in part to the data gathering capabilities of a new communication system.

Dispatchers at the Morgan County Emergency Management Communications District (MCEMCD) realized there were two prank calls in the same fire jurisdiction during the same shift on Sept. 8. The suspect’s number was unavailable on caller ID, so instead officials ran detailed reports on the calls using a new management information system (MIS).

The findings helped officials to pinpoint more than 50 calls from the same person over a six-week span. Combined with listening to the calls from the MCEMCD’s logging system — which records the actual phone conversations — police were ultimately led to a volunteer firefighter alleged to be making the false calls.

While call information recording technology isn’t groundbreaking, the automated data collection makes searching that material faster, easier and more thorough, according to Ryan Welty, director of the MCEMCD.

“911 centers mainly use their computer-aided dispatch for record management ... which depends on the dispatcher doing the data entry,” Welty said. “Before we would have searched our CAD system, but it would have been incomplete information.”

The MCEMCD’s new system captures phone records including the calling number, how long the call rang before being answered, how many dispatcher workstations the call came in on, who took the call, the length of the call and whether the call was transferred or someone joined the line as a conference.

The software also records the Automatic Location Information real-time screen, which gives information on the caller’s location.

“Having the technology to easily extract information to answer questions about where these calls are coming from is priceless to identify the trend and suspect,” Welty said.

“I am extremely pleased with it because even though [the pranks] went on for a while, we were able to handle it before anybody got hurt because of his actions,” he added.

Future Upgrades

Welty said his office receives about 250,000 calls per year. Because of the Web-based interface the MCEMCD is now using, Welty said it’s simple to run a search and find what he is looking for on the first or second try.

The Aurora MIS was purchased as a part of the Cassidian Sentinel Patriot phone solution. Welty said the entire system cost $390,000, paid for with 911 fees collected by the county.

Although the software isn’t connected with the technology the MCEMCD uses to record phone conversations, plans are to eventually connect both programs. In addition, Welty added that he sees the district’s CAD system also being integrated, allowing officials access to all information on one basic interface.

The Morgan County Emergency Management Communications District is also keeping close tabs on the progress on the Alabama Next Generation Emergency Network (ANGEN).

“We hope to connect with [ANGEN] in the future, but we don’t know if that’s this year, next year or several years down the road,” Welty said. “But because we see the life of the phone system being 10 years, we feel it’s important to be ready.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.