News : 911 Upgrade in Works for Sudbury
Sudbury, ON, Canada, Oct, 2018 -- Greater Sudbury Police are working to establish an enhanced 911 system that would prevent, or at least mitigate, the kind of tragedy that occurred on Lake Wanapitei five years ago.
The clumsy response to a 2013 boat crash that resulted in three deaths has been attributed, in part, to gaps in how emergency calls were fielded and dispatched. Those issues were at the centre of an inquest held in Sudbury last week.
In a coincidental but related development this week, the police board approved the purchase of call-handling software that will help its communications centre meet a new standard for 911 that is being gradually rolled out across Canada.
The improved system, called Next Generation 911, is something the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission has obligated all "public safety answering points" or PSAPs— including the centre in Sudbury — to have in place by 2020.
"You have heard of NG 911," CAO Sharon Baiden told police board members on Tuesday. "We’ve been identifying resources that are necessary from the capital investment standpoint so as to be able to upgrade our equipment."
Baiden said Greater Sudbury Police managers have been part of an emergency services working group overseeing the 911 modernization plan and the police service is also a member of OPTIC, a co-operative that allows for joint purchases of equipment with other police organizations.
"A number of police services are going with one vendor, which is Komutel," she said.
At present, 911 call centres are still land-line-oriented and "can really only receive voice calls," said Baiden. That means the information regarding the caller and their location is quite limited, especially if they are calling from a cellphone.
"What we’re seeing now is about 70 per cent of the 911 calls we get are coming in from a cellular phone, which doesn’t give any location and in some cases just gives an unknown caller," she said.
What the new technology offers, she said, is the ability to better handle digital calls, pinpoint the caller’s whereabouts much more accurately, and have all the data displayed in real time on a screen.
"This is exciting," she said. "This is the first stage we will be going through by acquiring Komutel, which will provide what is called softphone technology — which is touch-screen, and much easier for the dispatchers to use."
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The call-handling package will cost $121,000 but the police service will also save money by accepting licences from the Espanola Police Services Board, as that community is now policed by the OPP.
"They happen to have four licences that we were able acquire at a very significantly discounted rate," said Baiden, making the price of the Komutel system $15,000 less than it would have been.
Paul Notman, manager of communications and information technology with the police service, said Komutel will also be providing training to go along with the software.
"They call it a 911 call provider, so basically what’s happening is instead of having a phone like you would see on a desktop, it’s going to be a computer screen," he said. "The call takers will see the call on the screen, as well as the best possible location information based on the cellular data off the phone."
At the moment, operators only see "a name and a number," he said. "If we want to find out where they are specifically, we have a special program but you have to hop onto another screen and click a link and it triangulates the location from cell towers, or GPS data if it’s available."
Notman said this method of locating 911 callers has become fairly reliable in recent years, but "it’s a separate system" and the new approach will be much faster and more precise.
Ultimately, it’s expected a call could be traced not only to an address but "if you are in a building, to what floor you are on," said Notman.
He said it’s important to move ahead with the purchase of the Komutel system now as the training will take about a year.
"It’s a completely new way of doing business," he said.
Operators will be able to handle video and face-time calls, he said, as well as respond to calls through social media.
"Next Generation 911 is really looking at every possible way that you can communicate with the call centre and get through."
Eventually, communicators at the Sudbury centre will also be able to respond to text messages.
A 911 text would be useful in a case where someone needs to send a silent request for help. They could be hiding from a home invader, for instance, "or your husband is at the bathroom door in a domestic violence situation," said Notman.
It’s also the best option for the hearing-impaired, who already have the ability to contact 911 by teletype or text, but have to register for the service through providers like Bell, Telus and Rogers.
Two years from now, however, anyone will be able to text 911 through IP-based networks.
The first stage in reaching NG 911 compliance is the installation of the call-handling software to accommodate digital voice services, including video calls.
With the Komutel purchase, Notman said the police service is now positioned to have its communications staff up and running on this new technology in advance of the June 30, 2020 deadline.
The next stage is to have a system in place by December 2020 to process 911 texts.
"It is evolving rapidly and we are trying to get ahead of it before the legislation kicks in," said Notman. "It will be great when everything is set up in the communications centre. It’s a wholesale change of the way we do business up there."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2018
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