By JOHN GORALSKI
Three operators wait patiently by their keyboards, surrounded by an array of monitors and television screens, in a darkened room at Southington Police Department headquarters. Suddenly, a phone symbol flashes onto one of the screens and the three of them jump into a perfectly choreographed dance.
Until recently, two dispatchers were left in the dark when a 911 call came in, trying to piece together bits of conversation to try to help out. Now, after the biggest system upgrade since the 911 system was first initiated, all it takes is a click of the mouse and all three can join the call.
“I can monitor everything that he’s talking about,” said Officer Kevin Naranjo, who helped coordinate the system’s implementation. “If I have to dispatch AMR, I know exactly what’s going on. I no longer have to wait for him to type something up on the screen. I can actually hear it and start calling for resources, too.”
In a crisis, time is the best measure between success and failure. That’s why Southington’s long awaited 911 upgrade has first responders so excited.
“Our old system was still functional, but it was antiquated,” said Lt. Michael Baribault. “We used to have to pick up the actual phone. Now, it’s all done by headset at the click of a mouse. This has brought it up to date with today’s technology.”
The upgrade is part of a statewide effort between the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and AT&T. The Next Generation 911 System (NG 911) is an internet protocol-based system that incorporates everything that the digital age has to offer.
Sure, Southington’s system has been upgraded over the years, but nothing to this scale.
“It has taken all the technology that’s out there, in all its forms, and it allows you to get a hold of us when you need to,” said Baribault.
The new system was just implemented in May after almost a year of delays, but it was well worth the wait. The new system allows operators to utilize the new Connecticut Public Safety Data Network to deliver 911 calls to public safety answering points (PSAPs).
The new system also provides the infrastructure to allow “text to 911,” the ability to send images or video with a 911 call to a PSAP, and to call 911 directly via the internet when telecommunication service providers make these features available to the public. Most importantly, it allows police dispatchers to work as a team.
“This system lets me interrupt to help out,” said Naranjo. “We’re all working as a team, and everyone can hear. On the older system, that was a little more difficult.”
All of Southington’s dispatchers are trained on everything the system has to offer, and each workstation is set up with an array of six monitors complete with caller information and real-time GPS maps. The system ties in to an upgraded computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and automated records management systems (RMS). The 911 dispatch stations, servers, radio systems, and towers have all been upgraded.
Each upgrade is designed to give first responders instantaneous information to handle any crisis.
“Each car is a roving police station with everything but a holding cell,” said Baribault.
The system is designed for maximum flexibility. Before the upgrade, dispatchers were able to transfer 911 calls to neighboring towns during phone or electrical outages. Now, a Southington dispatcher can actually be sent to help. Southington officers can log in at a neighboring town, so that people who are familiar with the community and the roads will still be able to direct assistance during an outage.
Now, at a click of a button, operators can transfer calls, transfer data, and direct police, fire, and EMS personnel to the scene.
“There are so many more options,” said Naranjo. “In theory, that gets it to the people who need it even faster.”
Southington and Cheshire have already connected to the new system. Soon, Plainville will join the upgrade. Callers will not notice the difference…until first responders begin to show up even faster.
“Time is always the key here, and now we can get our personnel there even quicker,” said Baribault. “Sure, it might just be a couple of minutes, but those couple of minutes—in some scenarios—is a lot.”
In some scenarios, it’s everything.