New 911 dispatch system will make response times faster

by Brian Anderson

An upgrade to dispatch at Calhoun County 911 could decrease response times and increase accuracy in gathering information during emergency calls, a 911 official said.

Last week the Calhoun County 911 Board of Commissioners approved purchase of a $446,000 computer-aided dispatch system from Spillman Technologies. The system will upgrade all the mobile and mapping software for Calhoun County’s emergency response agencies, delivering faster notifications for responders.

“Extending that sharing capability with the whole county is really the main purpose,” said Kevin Jenkins, director of Calhoun County 911. “The benefit is for all our agencies to have the most reliable service available.”

Jenkins said with the new system, 911 call notifications will instantly go to emergency agencies in the area of the call, saving time dispatchers would use to relay information to the agency. The software would let responders know where a call is coming from, while information from the dispatcher would automatically update the agency on the nature of the emergency.

Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson, who is also a member of the 911 board, said the Sheriff’s Office already uses software to share information with other counties’ sheriff offices, and said the new computer-aided dispatch should integrate into that system, creating a wider network to share information.

“I’m happy to see the rest of Calhoun County move in that direction,” Amerson said.

The system will not be fully installed until the end of 2015. In the meantime, Jenkins hopes the 911 board will have more success in persuading other first-responder agencies to let Calhoun County 911 handle all dispatch from one central location — a goal he set when he took over as director last year.

“We have a lot of agencies interested, and I think we’re making progress,” Jenkins said.

So far, only Anniston’s police and fire departments have jumped on board, while other agencies have expressed hesitation in the plan. Amerson said dispatchers at the Sheriff’s Office act as receptionist and handle after-hours visits or calls to the agency. Losing them would be losing an essential service, he said.

“If our dispatchers were to leave, we would still need warm bodies there to perform those duties,” Amerson said. “It’s not a viable option for us.”

Jenkins said other agencies have also raised concerns about losing dispatchers who perform other roles, but said it would be beneficial for the county to have full-time focused dispatchers whose only task is to handle emergency calls.

“We want to provide the very best service,” Jenkins said. “Our dispatchers don’t have other things on their mind.”

Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge, also a member of the 911 board, said his agency is in a unique position in that the city is actually located in three counties. He said because of the different jurisdictions for emergency calls, centralizing dispatch is a complicated task.

“It’s another set of hurdles for us because of that,” Partridge said.

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