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St. Charles County, Mo., Aims to Be at Forefront of 911 Tech

St. Charles County is set to spend $12 million on upgrades to the technology at its 911 center, including both hardware and software changes set to be completed by mid-2025, officials said.

Closeup of a dial pad on a smartphone showing that "911" has been dialed.
(TNS) — St. Charles County is set to spend $12 million on upgrades to the technology at its 911 center.

The upgrades include both hardware and software changes and are set to be completed by mid-2025, said Jeff Smith, the county's emergency communications director.

"This is really putting us at the forefront of the 911 technology that is offered currently out there," Smith told the Post-Dispatch Thursday.

Among the changes is a system that will allow dispatchers to receive more precise information from 911 callers, including the caller's exact location.

The upgrades, approved during a meeting Monday come a few months after the St. Charles County Council approved spending more than $500,000 to hire eight out-of-state contract dispatchers in hopes of alleviating staffing shortages at the dispatch center.

The improvements will be paid for using funds from the county's capital improvement sales tax and from municipalities that use the center for dispatching services. The dispatch center handles calls for 10 fire protection districts, one municipal fire department, the countywide ambulance district and the St. Charles County Police Department.

Last year, dispatchers in St. Charles County received an average of 193 emergency 911 calls per day. They also received more than 360 calls per day related to building alarms, traffic stops and ambulance transports to a hospital or nursing home.

More than 118,000 calls have been placed to the center so far this year, officials said this week. Of those calls, 85% came from cell phones — a key data point, Smith said, because it's one of the main reasons the county needs to upgrade its systems.

Smith said sometimes, though rare, 911 calls on cell phones are routed to St. Louis County's 911 dispatch center because the phone is connected to a cell tower in St. Louis County. That requires the caller to be rerouted to St. Charles County, which can add minutes to a situation where every second counts.

The new system, Smith said, will be able to pinpoint a caller's exact location — even down to the floor they are on if they are in a multi-story building. This technology change won't require any specific cell phone apps or settings.

"This software is reliant on the cell phone carriers to transmit callers' information to us, so it won't matter if you are using a flip phone or the latest iPhone, we will have that information," Smith said.

The upgrade will also enable 911 dispatchers to receive photos and videos from callers who are using their cell phones. The center is already equipped to receive standard text messages.

A former fire chief, Smith said first responders will "know a lot more about what they are getting into" thanks to the new capabilities.

The technology could also help locate people who call 911 to report they are lost in a county park or a state conservation area, Smith said.

"The quicker we can get help to you, and the more information that we can give them, the likelihood is greater that lives are going to be saved," Smith said.

© 2023 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.