Tazewell County is upgrading its 911 system to allow for better pinpointing of callers’ locations and for photos, videos and other multi-media to be texted to 911 officials.

Next Generation 911 (NG911) is a nationwide emergency communications infrastructure that will enable voice and multimedia communications between a 911 caller and a 911 center and on to responders in the field. According to the 911 Now Coalition, a group of leading 911 associations throughout the United States, citizens in need of emergency assistance will be able to transmit photos, videos and other existing and future forms of broadband data and applications, in addition to voice, to 911 professionals.

“Next Generation 911 is an upgrade to the 911 system,” said Erin Morey, 911 coordinator for the Tazewell County Emergency Telephone System Board. “The old analog 911 systems are outdated and NG911 is IP (Internet Protocol)-based.”

In 2016 amendments to the Illinois Telephone System Act, the Illinois General Assembly directed that a statewide NG911 network be implemented by July 1, 2020. The network must provide improved 911 call delivery; enhanced interoperability; an increased ease of communication between 911 service providers to allow immediate transfer of 911 calls, caller information, photos, and other data statewide; and a central server to which PSAPs throughout the area can connect remotely. Tazewell County has begun preparing for the transition to NG911 by upgrading equipment within the Tazewell County Consolidated Communication Center’s (TAZCOMM) two Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), said Morey.

“Our old equipment was not capable of the upcoming text-to-911,” she said.  “We also need to update our mapping to prepare for more accurate caller locations. Tazewell County has installed IP-based phone equipment. We are also working to get our GIS (Geographic Information Service) data updated to the State standards.”

NG911 will improve emergency services by allowing dispatchers to better pinpoint caller locations, Morey added. Under the current system, some calls come in with a limited amount of the callers’ location information.

“Often, dispatchers will receive a call and it could be within 15 miles of the cellular tower,” she said.  “This is very frustrating when trying to send help. With NG911, the goal is to be able to pinpoint the caller’s location more accurately.  Counties are also working hard at getting text-to-911 as another form of taking emergency calls.” 

TAZCOMM has been working closely with municipalities throughout the county and with county agencies to get the most accurate information for not only dispatch but police, fire and emergency medical services personnel as well, said Morey. This includes updated aerial maps of Tazewell County that show new streets, buildings and neighborhoods. TAZCOMM has been working with the Roanoke-based mapping service Cloudpoint Geographics to update county maps to show address and structure points of all properties.

“This project was long overdue especially with the growth Tazewell County has experienced in the last ten years,” Morey said. “New aerial views are a great tool for the dispatcher in trying to describe terrain or call locations to units responding in an emergency.   Field units will also be able to utilize the new mapping.”

Morey said upgrading equipment in TAZCOMM PSAPs was long overdue. Given the costs associated with manning, upgrading and maintaining the latest equipment, funding is always an issue in emergency dispatch services.

“Some of our equipment was over 20 years old and far past the end of life for it,” she said. “Our technical staff work very hard at maintaining our equipment so dispatch can stay functional. Funding a 911 dispatch center 24/7 is expensive. We rely on the 911 surcharge money to keep things running. But too often, the political games get into the way of 911, which does not help our situation because 911 never stops ringing.”

For more information on NG911, visit the Statewide 911 Advisor’s website at www2.illinois.gov/sites/statewide911.