Manatee County official describes 911 system upgrade

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 11, 2014 

The Manatee County Emergency Communications Center. A technological upgrade of Manatee County's 911 system has been proposed to improve its efficiency and cut down the chances of error, officials said Tuesday.Bradenton Herald file photo by Paul Videla.

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MANATEE -- Upgrading Manatee County's 911 system technology has been proposed to improve efficiency and cut down the chances of error, officials said Tuesday.

The system, which routes phone calls to emergency workers, now operates on 40-year-old technology, said Public Safety Director Ron Koper during a budget work session.

The upgrade would replace a copper telephony-based system with a fiber network based on Internet protocol, said Koper.

"The next generation of 911 is coming and will allow for texting, email and video into 911," he told commissioners.

With a new fiber network, dispatchers would be able to more quickly and accurately track smartphone locations, which is now problematic, he said.

The first phase calls for replacing parts of the system at a cost of about $1 million. A state grant would cover $500,000 of the cost, Koper said.

A second phase would cost about $5 million, he said.

Buying new equipment could take place as soon as early next year with implementation next summer, Koper said.

The new system may mean consolidation of services for 911 centers operated by cities such as Bradenton and Palmetto since plans for a more efficient system would route all calls to one place.

"We're hoping to follow the consultant's recommendation to consolidate locations," Koper said, adding the

goal would be one point of contact between caller and dispatcher.

Under the current system, some calls are transferred from the county to work stations operated by municipalities, which takes extra time and increases the chance of error, he said.

Consultants say anytime a call is transferred it poses a risk of losing the call or incorrectly routing it, Koper said.

"So somebody's life could be hanging in the balance," he added. "That's the important message."

Municipalities that might be affected should be notified immediately, and county officials should engage their staff members so they become partners, suggested Commissioner John Chappie, a former Holmes Beach mayor.

"Let their staff know these are the things they have to plan for," Chappie said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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