For almost a decade, Minnesota has been in the process of creating an enhanced Next Generation 911 emergency calling system. Catching up with the challenges created with technological advancements that don’t use the traditional means of accessing the 911 system – computers and wireless devices – the need was identified to get past the antiquated landline phone system used to identify callers when the 911 system was created and those advanced technologies didn’t exist.
Wright County recently got a grant award of federal dollars administered through the Central Minnesota Emergency Services Board (CMESB) to assist in its effort to complete its portion of the statewide effort. The Next Gen 911 will go well beyond the traditional voice capability and be able to support diverse data, including photos, text messaging and video provided by callers.
The CMESB encompasses 18 counties – Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Grant, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pope, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wadena, Wilkin and Wright. The CMESB was awarded $638,000 in funding for the program and Wright County received the second highest award of any of the counties.
Haley Dubois, Public Service Answering Point Manager for the Wright County Sheriff’s Department asked the Wright County Board of Commissioners to accept the grant to assist the county in doing its part to be ready for when a uniform statewide system is completed.
“The total amount Wright County could receive is $92,671 and the majority would be use toward wages,” Dubois said. “It does not require a match. The overall grant management will be responsibility of the region.”
Dubois said the purpose of Next Gen 911 is to create a uniform system to assist law enforcement and first responders to have identical data that crosses jurisdictional lines and provides more accurate information to save critical response time during emergency situations.
“It will establish a statewide data set that can be used to help with call routing for 911 calls and address validating so we can get responders to appropriate places quicker,” Dubois said. “Right now, every county has its own set of data. This is going to make a statewide set so everyone is on the same page.”
The program will also enable enhanced text-to-911 capability, which has been a growing demand for those needing to contact 911 who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled.
Dubois said the program is still a distance away from being completed because of the layers of interaction that need to take place from individual counties to regional ESBs to the state. But, with grants like this, it will help the process continue moving forward.
When asked for a completion timeline, Dubois said not to expect immediate completion, but this long-term process is heading closer to the finish line as all 87 Minnesota counties look to get their own 911 systems in line.
“I suspect a couple of years,” Dubois said. “It’s going to be pretty lengthy. There are certain requirements from the state. We will report quarterly to the region with our progress and also the state. It’s going to take some time.”
For a visionary project that began in 2011, it looks as though the end is in sight to live up the goal of Next Generation 911 – Any Device, Anywhere, Any Time.