Next-Gen 911 System in Connecticut’s Near Future

All of the state’s 104 public service answering points are scheduled for a changeover by next year.

by Greg Smith, The Day / June 30, 2015
Connecticut will change to a next-generation 911 system. Shutterstock
Connecticut will change to a next-generation 911 system. Shutterstock

(TNS) -- Connecticut’s emergency dispatchers in the not-too-distant future will be fielding not only 911 calls and texts, but perhaps even viewing photos and videos of crimes or accidents.

The state’s changeover to the Next Generation 911 system has started at 10 pilot sites across the state, including locally at the Mashantucket Pequot Public Safety Department and Valley Shore Emergency Communications in Westbrook.

All of the state’s 104 public service answering points are scheduled for a changeover by next year.

Photos and videos will not yet be an option but the text-to-911 feature is expected to be implemented at two pilot sites by the end of the year prior to a statewide rollout.

Anyone calling 911 is unlikely to notice a difference in the new IP-based system, which replaces the so-called enhanced 911 system.

William Youell, the director of the Division of the Statewide Emergency Communications for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said the existing system is “very reliable and functional, but obsolete” and increasingly difficult to find hardware for.

The new system, with national standards set by the National Emergency Number Association, is a more advanced technology with better user interfaces and connectivity throughout the state system.

Mashantucket emergency dispatcher Dane Majewski, standing behind a bank of five monitors inside the Mashantucket Public Safety Building, pointed to a map on one of his screens during a demonstration Monday.

Maps pop up during a 911 call under the current system, but the new maps are more robust and detailed. He switched to satellite mode to show the area of Lantern Hill, where several hikers have called 911 in the past after getting lost.

While the system pinpoints a cellphone call to within several hundred feet, the map can show obstacles for rescuers trying to reach the hiker.

Majewski also can punch a few buttons on a keyboard to include a police officer in a phone call and monitor calls to other 911 centers across the state.

Mashantucket Tribal Police Chief William Dittman said the tribe invested in some in-house power-related upgrades prior to the installation of the new system. So far, Dittman said, "it's been an easy transition for us."

The entire statewide system, purchased through A&T, cost $13.26 million with annual maintenance costs of about $3.2 million, according to Stephen Verbil, a telecommunications manager with the Division of the Statewide Emergency Communications.

The system uses Dell servers connected through a fiber optic network and is paid for through a surcharge on land lines and cellphones. The current surcharge of 71 cents is expected to drop to 51 cents on July 1.

Another advantage of the new system is the ability to share servers. In a time of a disaster or overload of the system, dispatchers may be able to move and take calls from another location.

“That’s a powerful thing to have, especially in the event of a disaster,” Verbil said.

Valley Shore and New Britain dispatch centers are set to be host sites for the text-to-911 pilot program.

Each dispatch center will cover one half of the state while the system is tested. Valley Shore Communications handles services for 12 towns, including Lyme and Old Lyme.

Verbil said Vermont has implemented the text-to-911 system statewide and has not seen a huge spike in 911 texts.

He said he sees major advantages for the speech and hearing impaired, but said “the panic-stricken person stuck in the closet during a home invasion” scenarios, in which a text is a must, are a small subset of all 911 calls.

Verbil said dispatchers sometimes rely on inflexions in someone’s voice or even background noise to gather a complete picture of what’s going on in a 911 call.

When the state starts public relations on the text-to-911 system, he said his message would be “call if you can, text only if you must.”

©2015 The Day (New London, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs