McDowell, N.C. to upgrade 911 services: Digital switch to advance public assistance

McDowell 911 Communications during dispatch

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McDowell County and the rest of North Carolina will see improved 911 services from upgrades to the technology that serves as the backbone of the communications system.

The new technology will give the state the ability to connect all 117 primary 911 centers through internet-based routing services, allowing the call centers to seamlessly communicate with one another. The new high-speed connections will enable every center to serve as a backup for any other center in the state in the event of a natural disaster or an overload of emergency calls.

The state’s existing 911 system was built in the 1960s, and centers typically rely on an outdated analog system to communicate with one another. Some centers cannot connect at all.

“These technology improvements are essential to ensure that our 911 operators and our first responders are better equipped to best serve the needs of our citizens,” said Eric Boyette, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. Boyette also serves as chair of the NC 911 Board, which is housed within DIT. “North Carolina has developed a strong system to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. This next generation technology will only make that system better.”

McDowell 911 Manager Amberlie Buff spoke to the benefits of the system upgrade from a local perspective.

“North Carolina’s plan to upgrade 911 Communications could benefit our center in a large disaster. It would be very beneficial for us to be able to quickly connect with neighboring counties and be able to assist each other when needed,” said Buff, who said the upgrade should not have an effect on day to day operations.

The NC 911 Board, on behalf of the state, has contracted with AT&T to carry out the seven-year, $99 million project. The state intends to link all call centers through the AT&T ESINet system by 2020. The contract went into place Sept. 15.

“This partnership to move North Carolina’s 911 system from a legacy analog system to this next generation digital system has been many years in the design stage and will result in a more effective and efficient 911 system for the residents and visitors to North Carolina,” said Richard Taylor, the executive director of the NC 911 Board.

The upgraded system will also pave the way for advancements in the way citizens interact with 911 operators.

North Carolina will have a more sophisticated ability to route calls based on the caller’s geographic location. The call centers will also be able to manage and route advanced communications such as text messaging to 911.

“Next Generation 911 will allow us to transmit data through the 911 system, then 911 Telecommunicators will be filtering real time pictures, voice and video to the public,” said Buff. “This will allow information to flow from the public to the 911 center, then to the responding units.”

In the future, North Carolina will be able to receive pictures and videos sent by text message. Already, more than 75 percent of the calls made to 911 in North Carolina come from a mobile device, according to Taylor.

“Emergency response is often triggered by a 911 call, so the more information a 911 operator is able to receive and relay, the more prepared first responders will be when they arrive on scene,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry of the Department of Public Safety.

Other benefits include a defense-in-depth, private network with multiple layers of security such as firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention to protect North Carolina’s 911 infrastructure from cyber threats, as well as compatibility with legacy 911 systems and services.

For more information on the NC 911 Board, visit https://it.nc.gov/nc911board. For more information on McDowell 911 Communications, visit http://www.mcdowellem.com/911-communications.html.

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