News : Text Functions, Other Improvements Coming to 911
Sept 24, 2014 -- The Escambia County emergency dispatch center has implemented several upgrades that will improve network security, modernize the system and eventually add texting features to 911 services.
The modernization of the call center has been in the works for several years, and was funded by a surcharge on landlines, according to Michael Moring, county communications chief. The root of the upgrade was that the old equipment was aging, bulky and in the case of the Windows XP operating systems, approaching obsolescence.
"It’s infrastructure stuff," Moring said. "You have to stay on top of it, because if you don’t, you can have critical failures. That’s something we can’t afford."
The entire 911 system was moved to its own network so that it is less vulnerable to data breaches. There also is increased redundancy in wiring and off-site servers now, so that if one site is damaged in an accident or natural disaster, dispatchers won’t lose call capabilities.
The flashiest feature of the upgrade is undoubtedly the ability to contact 911 by text. Moring said it is vastly preferable that citizens call 911 instead of texting whenever possible. Unlike cell phone or land line calls, texts do not give dispatchers any information about the caller’s location.
However, texting could be a huge help for the hearing or speech impaired, or in situations where stealth is imperative.
"If you think you have an intruder in the home and you don’t want to alert them to your location, that’s when the text feature is going to come in handy," Moring said.
The infrastructure upgrades have been completed and the installations caused no interruptions to 911 services. Texting should be implemented by early next year, and Moring said dispatchers will receive special training on texting etiquette and professionalism before the program rolls out.
"You’re never going to get a text from us that says LMAO," Moring said with a grin.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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