Last updated: July 11. 2014 10:05AM - 255 Views
By Lucas Vance lvance@civitasmedia.com

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FAIRFIELD COUNTY — Technology is emerging and being implemented across much of the country to allow people to text to 911 in emergencies, rather than call, which has been coined as the Next Generation 911 system.

The system would allow a subject to text photos and video to dispatch to report an emergency.

Fairfield County’s Emergency Management Director Phyllis Watkins doesn’t believe the system it is being implemented anywhere in South Carolina currently and Fairfield County is still 18-24 months away from implementing the Next Generation 911 system.

“Even though this technology is coming, we will still encourage voice and 911 calls because that is where the information is at,” Watkins noted. “For someone just to text us a picture is not giving us any information if we cant’ talk and get the location, so we will always encourage for someone to call 911.”

Communities have gone back and forth if such a service is worth the extra cost that might be necessary from local governments.

“It is over the horizon and is being implemented in other cities, just basically metropolitan areas,” Watkins noted.

But as far as Fairfield County is involved it will be almost two years away because not only does the equipment have to be purchased, which is expensive, but also the infrastructure of the wireless providers has to put the technology in place in order for dispatch to receive the information.

“The process will involve the wireless providers and then it will involve the 9-1-1 facilities and then the local government that will have to change out all the technology,” Watkins advised.

Watkins said the county hasn’t done any testing yet because they do not currently have the equipment or the infrastructure.

Next Generation 911 will be an Internet protocol system as opposed to the current land-line system that is in place now.

Watkins noted that the system could still be used as an advantageous tool. It would be beneficial and useful in a scenario where a subject cannot talk on the telephone whether it is a hostage situation or home invasion.

Is Next Generation 911 worth the extra cost?

The Herald Independent recently posed this question on our Facebook page and a few residents pointed out the additional expense and the accountability of weeding out the possibility of “prank” texts.

Dennis Brannon wrote, “I’d like to hear more about the accountability involved. How would they prevent or monitor abuse by people prank texting?”

Watkins said county staff is working on protocols and standards to prepare dispatch for receiving information through the Next Generation 911 system.

“Those (prank texts) are protocols they’re looking at,” she advised. “That is one of the reasons it has take so long to be implemented. The majority of the 911 centers in the country are not ready for Next Generation 911.”

Herald Independent Facebook friend Jeff Betsch also mentioned people possibly misusing the system and posted, “The county is ready for it, but what is to stop people from abusing it.. aka what measures are being implemented to go after folks who text in a 911 about their food order being screwed up?”

District 7 resident Billy Smith expressed concern about the financial responsibilities in the comment thread, “A 911 system capable of receiving text messages would be nice, but cost should be a factor in making any decisions. It’s hard to tell what Council may have on its collective mind in regards to this. Recently they indicated that they’re looking into purchasing a new phone system for our emergency services, then in the budget talks it was mentioned how well the current system was working.”

Watkins said the county has not done any research into the cost of implementing the Next Generation 911 system, but she anticipated the cost being expensive.

“That is the consensus,” she stated. “Just talking to other groups and counter parts, it appears it might be expensive and that is why they’re looking at other options and finances to help us out in that area.”

Watkins said the Next Generation 911 system has been talked about for years but the system still has to work out the graphic quality of pictures. She also mentioned the possibility of disturbing images being sent and whether or not dispatch would be prepared to receive the graphic nature of what could be sent.

There are some agencies in South Carolina that have the equipment to receive messages from the Next Generation 911 system, but without the infrastructure, they still cannot receive the messages.

“The wireless providers are involved in this and the telephone companies are involved this, so if they don’t have the backbone of it, then even if you have the equipment to receive it, it’s still not happening,” Watkins said.

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