911 center upgrades will provide translation services, precise location tracking
By Graig Graziosi
Mahoning County’s 911 system will receive a multi-million dollar overhaul over the next six months.
The upgrades are part of a nationwide effort to modernize the country’s 911 systems called “Next Generation 911.”
Rob Jackson, a state 911 administrator, said the improvements would greatly increase the technological capabilities of emergency service response centers.
“Essentially, we’re taking the old copper line telephone 911 system and moving it into an internet protocol 911 system, which is much more advanced technology,” Jackson said. “With that comes capabilities down the line; text to 911, people will be able to send pictures and video, and locating callers will be based on the phone’s actual location rather than through tower triangulation. Eventually, we may be able to add a third axis and determine what floor a person is calling from.”
The emergency service agencies will work alongside wireless carriers to increase the tools that 911 operators have to use while responding to calls.
Michael Romeo, the administrator of technology for the city of Campbell and an occasional technology administrator for the Struthers Police Department, said the update would be a major improvement to Campbell’s current system.
“In a nutshell, it’ll change our whole dispatching system,” he said. “We haven’t had a major update to Campbell’s system for at least five years, so this is going to set us on a similar playing field to other systems in the area.”
A feature of the system Romeo is particularly excited for is a new translation service. Campbell has a 15 percent Hispanic population and is still home to one of the largest Greek immigrant enclaves in the region.
“So if we get a Spanish caller, we’ll have a service where we can immediately have access to a translator and get the information we need,” Romeo said. “Time is often a crucial variable in emergency situations, and tools like that help responders save time.”
The upgrades also will provide 911 operators with call histories tied to certain addresses, which will provide emergency services personnel responding to the situation with potentially life-saving information.
“For example, if an operator gets a call from a home where an individual with prior violent incidents lives, the operator will have access to that information and can pass it along to the responder,” Romeo said.
Mahoning County upgrades its 911 systems every five years to ensure the technology doesn’t become obsolete.
Maggie McGee, the executive director of Mahoning County 911, said in addition to keeping software up to date, the coming upgrade also will improve the system’s defense against hackers.
“Cybersecurity is a major concern for us,” McGee said. “People would love to have that information.”
McGee said the overhaul likely would cost about $2 million, though the total cost has not been officially determined. The county will pay for the majority of the upgrades, she said.
“When you look at everything – training, equipment, database maintenance – it’s all very intricate,” McGee said. “We want to make sure everyone is on the same page in the county, and some places just wouldn’t have the funds to do this themselves. The people who take those emergency calls are our first line of defense though, so they’re important to us and worth the investment.”