911 upgrade will help first responders, community

Becky Vargo • Mar 8, 2018 at 1:00 PM

A bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder will cause your cellphone bill to increase by 6 cents per month per device, starting in April.

The fees will be used to upgrade Michigan’s 911 network.

“In the past 50 years, technology has dramatically changed how we live, and yet our emergency 911 system has not kept pace,” Snyder said. “It’s time to upgrade all of our systems statewide, giving first responders improved ways to locate victims and better help Michiganders in need of immediate help in life-threatening situations.”

Senate Bill 400, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, modifies fees set by the Emergency 911 Service Enabling Act to provide the funding mechanism Michigan counties will use to upgrade their current infrastructure.

And that’s a small price to pay for the huge benefits to the first responders and the community at large, according to Ottawa County Central Dispatch Director Tim Smith. 

“I’ve been working on that since 2012,” said Smith, who hopes to see Ottawa County — and possibly Muskegon and Allegan counties, as well — up and running with the new system in 2019. 

The cellphone tax hike — which amounts to 72 cents a year per device — will fund a managed fiber-optic secure network for use by all of the central dispatch systems in the state, Smith said.

“Currently, we’re getting calls in over copper wires, just like we have for the last 50 years,” he said.

The improvements, along with some equipment upgrades at the local level, will mean that witnesses to incidents — whether accidental or criminal — can send photos or videos to Central Dispatch. That information can be immediately passed on to the first responders so they have a better idea of what they are facing, Smith said.

In addition, Central Dispatch will be able to receive a vehicle’s telemetrics, he said. This means that, in addition to location, dispatchers will have information such as the speed of a vehicle prior to a crash, whether or not air bags were deployed, and data showing the likelihood of injury and the potential degree of any injuries.

Smith said that any equipment upgrades would be assumed by the individual dispatch centers. Ottawa County’s costs will be absorbed through the capital funds portion of a Central Dispatch millage currently in place.

The Ottawa County Central Dispatch millage was last renewed in 2008 with almost 80 percent approval from the voters, Smith said. The millage comes up for renewal again in 2028.

“There is not a local surcharge in Ottawa County and no intent for one in the future,” Smith added.

Smith said they are in the planning stages for the changeover to what he’s calling the next generation of 911. They don’t have a projected cost for the equipment cost, but Smith said it will be manageable within the current capital budget.

Talks are being held with officials in Muskegon and Allegan counties to see if they can all make the move at the same time, Smith said.

While other counties already have such a system in place, Smith said Ottawa County waited until the funding was approved.

The switchover is usually a six- to nine-month process, Smith said.

“Sometime in 2019, we will go live,” he said.

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