Cellphones Make Case for Next-Gen 911 in Connecticut Communities

The prevalence of cellphones has created some problems when it comes to how the devices interact with legacy 911 systems. Officials are hopeful the next-gen 911 will alleviate these issues.

by Jesse Leavenworth, The Hartford Courant / September 21, 2017

(TNS) -- Manchester and East Hartford have new emergency commmunications systems that reflect the rise of the cellphone as residents' preferred, and often only, phone.

A major advantage of the "next generation" 911 system is the ability to pinpoint the location of cellphone calls, police said. Previous equipment could only place those callers in wide areas relative to the nearest cellphone tower, a particularly frustrating and time-consuming problem when calls were made near borders with neighboring towns, police said.

Installed in August in East Hartford, the new digital system is part of an ongoing statewide upgrade being done by the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (http://bit.ly/2f7QpoV) and AT&T.

The next generation system was installed at the Manchester police station in July. Advantages over previous equipment include stability and ease of operation, said Police Chief Marc Montminy.

Future improvements in all dispatch centers with the new system are to include text-to-911 and the ability to transmit photos and videos, capabilities that could prove valuable in certain emergencies, police said.

For instance, East Hartford police Lt. Don Olson said, a person trying to escape an attacker during a home invasion or domestic violence incident could text a call for help instead of speaking and giving away a hiding spot.

"This new system is an investment in the security and welfare of our residents," East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc said.

The town's communications center is one of 104 "public safety answering points" in the state, which receive over 2 million emergency calls each year. About 80 percent of those calls now come from cellphones. In the first quarter of this year, East Hartford fielded 7,166 calls through the 911 system. Of those, 5,499 came from cellphones, police said.

"It is vital that our agency keep up technological developments to continue to provide the best services we can to our community," Police Chief Scott Sansom said.

Just over half of all homes in the nation had only cellphone service in the latter half of 2016, according to a U.S. government study released in May. About 39 percent of households had landline and cellphone service.

The state had to temporarily halt the 911 upgrades last year after the system broke down, failing to connect many emergency callers, authorities have said. No emergencies went unreported or unanswered, however, as systems were rerouted to others that were functioning, similar to what's done in power outages, a state official said at the time.

AT&T switched subcontractors after the break-down, and the next generation system now being installed is the Viper call plaform, a product of West Corp. (www.west.com). Installations at municipal and state call centers began in January and are to continue into November.

©2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.