New ways of communicating are spurring new improvements in Walla Walla County, Wash.’s E-911 system.

In the next four to six months, the county’s existing 911 phone system is going to be replaced with one that is compatible with “Next Generation 911” technology, said Steve Ruley, public safety communications manager.

The new system will be paid for by state and local 911 taxes with no additional costs to local governments, Ruley said. The changeover should cause no interruption of 911 service.

Ruley said this morning that the total is expected to come in around $275,000.

In a release, Ruley explained that changes to Walla Walla County’s system are needed because phones aren’t just phones anymore.

When the county’s Enhanced 911 system was put in place in the mid-1980s, most phones used landlines and cellphones were still a novelty. But today almost 70 percent of all 911 calls are from wireless phones and that percentage is expected to grow.

In addition, phones today also send text messages, pictures and videos as well as use voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), also known as Internet or broadband phone services.

Another new issue is vehicle automatic collision notification systems, such as OnStar, which can automatically call 911 after a crash. As more vehicles are equipped with these devices, there is a need to ensure emergency call systems can interface with them.

Locally, much of the infrastructure to support the Next Generation 911 system has already been installed, Ruley said, and this new phone system is the next step toward implementation.

“The current (911) phone system is well past its expected service life and is no longer supported by the manufacturer. The new system ... will easily accommodate future technologies,” he said.

©2014 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)