Boone County Officials say "technology upgrades key to new 911 center"
Boone County has purchased more than $3.3 million in technology this year to replace antiquated equipment at its new Emergency Communication Center.
Voters approved a three-eighths-cent sales tax in April 2013 to fund a new Emergency Communications Center and technology to equip it. The project cost $18 million; $8 million went to technology purchases.
The sales tax allowed the county to take over the joint communications operation, which formerly was a venture among the city of Columbia, county, fire districts and other Boone County municipalities, with the exception of Centralia.
The city had the bulk of responsibility, Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said, but the involvement of multiple agencies caused issues with prioritizing needs, including updates to the joint communications system. A blue ribbon panel appointed in 2012 helped make the decision to switch to full county ownership.
“There were too many finger in the pot trying to decide what the priorities should be, so having it under one jurisdiction, it’s totally focused,” Miller said.
Dispatchers have been using the same radio consoles — technology dispatchers use to talk to first responders — for the past 16 years. The company that manufactured the consoles no longer is in business, and when pieces are needed, Boone County Joint Communications turns to eBay, said Chad Martin, director of joint communications.
While the consoles function properly, Martin said finding replacement pieces has been a problem for years.
The old equipment will be retired, Martin said, as it is “way past its useful life.” New radio consoles were purchased from Avtec Inc. for more than $742,000.
The new 911 phone system software that handles incoming calls is the most expensive purchase this year at $945,864.
Technology upgrades give joint communications the option to introduce Next Generation 911 in the future, allowing citizens to someday text 911 instead of calling. Martin said there is no way to tell when that will be available but that the technology at the new center can handle it.
Multiple agencies collaborated with Mission Critical Partners, a consulting group, to select a computer-aided dispatching system through the company SunGard Public Sector Inc. this year. That technology cost $803,220. Computer-aided dispatching systems use software that takes incoming calls and sends information to multiple law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service agencies.
Joint communications and Boone County Emergency Management also are introducing new information systems used in emergency situations.
SmartPrepare, an emergency management tool, uses information citizens provide through the current Smart911 system and maps special needs in an affected area during a disaster or emergency. Rave Alert, an emergency alert system that can send information in text messages, will roll out in mid-September. Citizens can sign up for Smart911 now through the emergency management website.
All technology in the new Emergency Communications Center will be on a replacement schedule, Miller said, and funds will be set aside annually to ensure updates are made when necessary.