Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Every second counts in an emergency, especially when a person dials 911 for help.
That’s why upgraded technology and new infrastructure is the driving force behind a new statewide network aiming to bring technology-based enhancements to 911 call centers throughout the state, including in Wilson County.
The state has begun implementing its Next Generation 911 system, which will ensure callers are able to access 911 services no matter where they are or the communication technology they use, according to officials.
Wilson County is one of several counties that have already switched over.
“Residents don’t really see the changes when they call to pick up the phone to call 911, they’re still going to reach 911,” said Brenda Womble, Wilson County Emergency Communications Center director. “But we are definitely seeing a difference in the speed in the call ringing to 911.”
The new system went live in Wilson County nearly two months ago. The state’s goal is to have all 127 call centers on the network by 2021.
“It took us over a year of pre-planning and meetings because this affected different things,” Womble said.
The benefits of the new system include call routing based on the caller’s location, not from the wireless tower that received the 911 call, as well as text-to-911 reliability. State and local officials say this system will improve the “efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response.”
Wilson County’s 911 call center received nearly 80,000 calls last year alone.
“While residents do not notice a difference, the speed, the new technology and capability of allowing texting and the foundation of the Next Generation 911 is here,” said Ron Hunt, assistant county manager for Wilson County.
Prior to the new system, residents could text 911, but the service wasn’t reliable. Womble said those text messages would come in and the numerics were garbled.
“With this new format, it’s clearing that up,” she said.
Womble said the new system continuously tracks callers’ location when they’re in motion, so if a person texts or calls 911 and then travels into another county, the 911 center will know that and will be able to relay the call to another 911 center.
“We can do a retransmit and keep getting updates on that location,” Womble said. “The technology is quicker.”
Texting 911 may be necessary in incidents where speaking could endanger someone who’s reaching out for help, such as in domestic violence or hostage situations. Womble said 911 dispatchers advise residents to “Call if you can, text if you can’t.”
Another feature the new system offers is also helpful. For example, if a resident is hiding in a closet because an intruder is inside his or her home, there’s a way to keep communicating with 911 operators without the intruder overhearing.
Womble said the system allows telecommunicators to keep asking questions and callers can respond by pressing buttons to relay information.
For example, the telecommunicator may ask how many intruders there are in the home — and the caller may press “2” on the cellphone. The telecommunicator can type underneath that call information for first responders.
Officials say these new capabilities provide more information to first responders including law enforcement. Those details can improve officer and victim safety.
Another system feature includes “play to caller” recordings. A woman may call 911 to report that her boyfriend hit her, but once the officer gets there, she might tell officers that it didn’t happen. That officer can call into the 911 center to hear a recording of the emergency call.
“We can pull up that call and play it for them,” Womble said. “We can rewind and fast forward while they are out on the scene.”
Officials said the entire system is paving the way for new technology.
“We are really meeting citizens where they are and citizens are on their devices,” Hunt said. “This ups the ante.”