MANATEE -- An agreement has been reached in principal on a new centralized 911 emergency call system, officials said Wednesday.
The conceptual design for the county and its municipal counterparts calls for consolidating call-taking functions, which would eliminate transfer calls between the county 911 center and other municipality centers, said Paul Alexander, Manatee County director of information technology services.
It might also entail a standardized computer-aided dispatch system all county partners would use, Alexander said.
Alexander met recently with 911 center supervisors representing the cities of Bradenton, Holmes Beach and Palmetto; the town of Longboat Key; and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
The preliminary arrangement calls for all 911 calls to be answered at the county Emergency Operations Center, and each municipality would use the same standardized computer-aided dispatch system to actually send out emergency workers, Alexander said.
"Right now, we have disparate systems. We have three or four different (computer-operated dispatch) systems," said Alexander. "We need to be open and diligent in making sure we're applying technology in a way we don't compromise operations."
He said there has been "really good progress" on resolving complex issues.
"The key is we've got to have the technology to meet our business needs and with an eye on the future," he said.
Upgrades have been proposed due to impending system obsolescence. The 911 system now operates on 40-year-old technology.
The county also hopes to improve efficiency and cut down the chances of error. The cost is expected to be in the vicinity of $5 million to $6 million.
The upgrade would replace a copper telephony-
based system with a fiber network based on Voice Over Internet Protocol. It would add such features as text messaging, email, photos and video to the county 911 system, which now is limited to telephone calls only. With a new fiber network, workers could more quickly and accurately track smartphone locations, which is now problematic.
"We'll be looking at what uniformly we'll go to countywide, which certainly would be in the best interest of the whole county -- being all on the same system," said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, who last fall complained of being excluded from discussions of the new system.
"We're very excited and very happy the county is going down this road," he added. "The county IT has been working to determine operationally what technology they have to get. We're all working very well together."
All calls would go through the 911 center at the Manatee County Public Safety Center, but the computer-aided dispatch system would send information electronically almost instantaneously elsewhere as well, Radzilowski said.
"We dispatch all the calls in real time," said Radzilowski.
Longboat Key officials are reviewing plans from Manatee and Sarasota counties for an upgraded system, said Police Chief Peter Cumming, and have met with their counterparts in both counties since the town touches the two.
The big question is how much a new system in either county might cost, Cumming said.
"It's a question of the dollars," he said. "We really don't know how much it'll cost or who's going to be responsible for it."
Alexander visited municipal departments to see what was in place before negotiating with vendors of call system equipment, said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
"The whole goal here was to try to get everybody on the same CAD system, and I think that's what Paul Alexander has been doing," Steube said. "It would make things simpler for everybody."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.