As a public safety issue, a state-of-the-art emergency call system is essential to saving lives, fighting crime and protecting property. Manatee County officials are now pursuing a high-tech 911 system to replace an ancient one that only allows operators to talk over the phone.
This is one large expense that is unquestionably worthwhile -- priceless in many regards.
Vastly superior technology would connect the public to operators via text message, email, video and digital images -- a potential treasure trove of information for law enforcement, fire and medical personnel.
Plus, as Manatee County Public Safety Director Ron Koper enthuses, Internet protocol equipment provides a "huge advantage" by pinpointing locations via the global-positioning systems in cell phones and other devices.
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Koper outlined the county's quest for a highly versatile 911 system in an Aug. 24 article by Herald reporter Sara Kennedy. One particular points she raised bears repeating in that it reflects the life-saving potential of advanced technology.
Southwest Florida well remembers the horrific tale of Denise Amber Lee, kidnapped in 2008 in Sarasota County. Imprisoned in the trunk of her abductor's vehicle, she found a cell phone and called 911.
But the 911 dispatcher could not pinpoint her location. Lee was raped and murdered, her distraught family listening to that fateful 911 call in court during the trial of her now convicted killer.
The value of a state-of-the-art 911 system cannot be over stated.
How deficient is the current one? It operates on 40-year-old technology, a copper telephone-based system that harkens back to the days of a rotary-dial phone hard-wired to a wall.
Today's fiber-optic networks can swiftly and accurately track cell phone locations, eliminating one of the shortcomings of outdated 911 systems.
The county, with Koper leading the effort, sought bids on the cost of designing a system with various options, and officials expect to open those bids on Sept. 4.
The initial phase -- the purchase of hardware and software -- is estimated at $1 million to $2 million. A state grant would cover $500,000 of that, Koper told county commissioners at June budget work session.
The second phase could reach $5 million, that a recurring costs for licenses, maintenance and networking. The system will consist of a dedicated network that must feature redundancy connections to various work stations and sites as a backup.
One possible hiccup comes from various county municipalities which operate their own 911 centers. The county hopes to consolidate these operations at the Emergency Communication Center.
With all calls routed to one place, the risk of dropped transfers and incorrect routing would be eliminated -- a major advantage over current procedures. "So somebody's life could be hanging in the balance," Koper told commissioners. "That's the important message."
Those cities have yet to sign off on the idea, only being brought into the conversation recently.
The county plans to present cost details at the Sept. 20 Council of Governments meeting.
Additional state aid for 911 systems is in the offing, thanks to legislation sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, whose district encompasses East Manatee and northeast Sarasota County. His measure extends the state's telecommunications fee to prepaid phones.
The current 911 fee disbursement to Manatee County fails to cover current costs, Koper noted, so extra state funding is vital for an expensive new system.
An advanced 911 system is a public safety investment like no other, one we fully support.