Texting to 911 on horizon in Lorain County as commissioners move to update system

By Jonathan Delozier - jdelozier@civitasmedia.com



You’ll soon be able to ask for emergency help through 911 via text message after the Lorain County commissioners approved a proposal May 31 to overhaul our area’s dispatch system.

Solacom Technologies, a Chicago firm based locally in Amherst, will handle the installation of what it calls “Next Generation 911.”

“We have over 30 years’ experience putting in our systems all over the country,” said Solacom regional account manager Greg Dixon, who served as Lorain County’s 911 director from 1994 to 1998. “We do consider ourselves to be a leading developer of mission-critical communications.”

Next Generation 911 implementation began in 2003 in an initiative from the National Emergency Number Association to modernize emergency dispatch system nationwide, emphasizing the need to create infrastructure able to support voice, text, and video communication from any wired, wireless, or Internet-based device.

Dixon said the system can be built and delivered in 90 days with installation beginning immediately after that, with text to 911 being available the day the system goes live.

“If you text 911 right now, you’ll get a bounce-back message saying that service isn’t available in this area,” he said. “There needs to be a public awareness campaign to let people know this technology exists and it is coming to the area.”

“I remember in my days working for the county, we advanced to wireless technology and the ability to answer 911 calls from cellular phones. Now the time has come to implement texting ability, which will greatly benefit the hearing impaired community.”

The ability to receive texts from 911 will also be available eventually. Dixon said it can serve as a valuable tool for emergency response departments to avoid wasting resources on hangup calls.

“Hangup calls plague 911 centers and tax resources,” he said. “Some departments actually dispatch a car on every hangup call. Others choose to call back and verify there’s no emergency at that location. With text from 911, we’re finding we’re able to resolve a lot of those — up to 80 percent of the time — without having to dispatch a car.”

Lorain County’s 911 center, located at 322 Gateway Blvd. North, Elyria, is in the process of moving its operations to a new facility on Burns Road.

The new system’s infrastructure will be split between the two buildings, with each able to operate independently in the event one loses functionality.

Fifteen new call-taker positions will be added, with 12 at the Burns Road center. Training for call-takers will entail a four-hour class.

Aside from the two main 911 hubs, Dixon said equipment will also need replaced at 14 emergency response departments across the county.

“The new system will be installed adjacent to the old one,” said Dixon. “Call-takers will be trained on the new system as the old system is still functioning as it is today. I see the training happening at one facility, that facility going live at the conclusion of training, and then the backup center being transitioned over to the new system.”

The age of the county’s current setup, installed more than 20 years ago, and a need to more easily connect during a statewide emergency response are the drivers to move to Next Generation 911 in Lorain County. Connectivity with that state network is still about three years away, Dixon said.

“A number of counties that have very limited funding will probably be absorbed by that state solution,” he said. “I think you lose a tremendous amount of personalization when you join a large, complex system like that. If someone is having a heart attack at McDonald’s in Elyria, it’s very difficult for a statewide network to determine by itself which McDonald’s that is.”

The cost of the system has not yet been determined.

Commissioner Matt Lundy asked about the possibility of moving toward picture and video messaging with 911 in the future.

“It’s very possible but I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” Dixon said. “We develop the majority of our capabilities based on NENA standards. We work to develop tech that moves things forward but won’t overwhelm a 911 center. As it relates to picture and video on 911 calls, pictures and video can overwhelm a call-taker. That person isn’t a first responder and isn’t used to a picture of a severed limb. While pictures and video are definitely the wave of the future, it will be dependent on how that call center feels about it.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.


By Jonathan Delozier