Money in state budget to fund 911 call center upgrades

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- $6.7 million approved by lawmakers in the biennium budget will go towards putting all 911 call centers in Wisconsin on a digital platform.

The plan is being called "Next Generation 911." It is a secure, digital platform for 911 centers to operate on, allowing them to connect with emerging technology better.

"The current system we have now is based on 1960s technology, so copper phone lines," Rock County Communications Director Kathy Sukus said.

Sukus says since she started working at the call center in the early 1990s the basis of the system has gone almost unchanged.

"Overall it's been very durable and done it's job but with emerging technology there's not much more they can do with it," Sukus said.

A new, digital system will allow call centers to get more accurate location readings on calls from cell phones.

"Eighty percent of our calls, 911 calls that is, that we receive are from cellular phones," Sukus said.

Sukus says depending on where cellular towers are located, sometimes, calls from Illinois or Dane County can get directed to their center.

"Next Generation 911 would use internet based location information, like you would on apps or Uber or something, like that way we would have more detailed information and it would be sent to the proper safety answering point," Sukus said.

The digital technology would also allow callers to send dispatchers at 911 centers videos and photos. Current "text to 911" services have very limited capabilities, Sukus says. She says a digital platform would open up text and multimedia sharing to any caller with any internet connection.

"I think it's good for the community to be able to call from any device, anywhere, at any time," Sukus said.

Sukus says sharing multimedia information could help dispatchers send more targeted services to an area based on details from the photos. She says having this technology would come with some challenges and would require more training and support services for telecommunications operators.

The digital network would also reduce the amount of time it takes to transfer calls if they do get a call from someone in their service area, calling about something outside it. Sukus says right now, it can take as long as 30 seconds to transfer calls. She says in an emergency those seconds can be precious.

Several other states have already digitized their 911 call centers. Many dispatch centers in Wisconsin already have the capability to go digital, and are just waiting for the state to design and implement the programming needed.

The switch to digital could happen by the end of 2018.

Copyright 2017: WMTV