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Ottawa County 911 getting major tech update

Audra Gamble/The Holland Sentinel • Aug 16, 2018 at 11:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — The Ottawa County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a major technology update for the 911 Central Dispatch Authority.

The authority will now begin switching its service lines from aging copper phone wires to new, secure fiber-optic cables.

"When 911 started in 1968, it was all landlines," Central Dispatch Executive Director Tim Smith said. "Today, we've got those same copper wires bringing in calls to our 911 center. With so many devices now with cellphones and smartphones, you can't pass all that data through the copper."

Smith said the new fiber-optic network will be able to pass someone's exact location, photographs and videos from the caller to a 911 dispatcher, then directly into the police patrol car heading to the scene of the emergency. If someone has video footage of a package being stolen off their porch or of a suspect breaking into their home, that video will now be available to the police officer responding to the call.

Smith said he's particularly excited about the enhanced location accuracy services this switch will allow. If someone calls 911 from a landline phone, that dispatcher can pinpoint exactly which house the caller is at. The same is not true for someone calling from a cellphone, which is much more common.

"If you have a landline, it plots your house on the map," Smith said. "But the cellphone goes to the closest available cell tower and then it takes 20 seconds to triangulate your location. We can't tell where you're at. We have an idea — but, with the fiber cables, this is going to give us your exact longitude and latitude directly to the dispatch center."

The funding for the switch from copper to fiber cables has been in the works since 2012. This year, a statewide 911 fee increase bill passed, changing the monthly rate Michiganders pay on their phone bills from 19 cents to 25 cents. The increase will pay for all Michigan 911 centers to get the new technology.

At the same time Ottawa County changes to fiber cables, the plan is to have Muskegon, Allegan and Kent counties make a simultaneous switch. Kent County has already approved its resolution, and Allegan and Muskegon counties plan to do so shortly. This is important, Smith said, because Muskegon and Allegan counties sometimes share 911 services with Ottawa County.

"If Muskegon has overflow calls, they come to Ottawa County — and if we get overwhelmed, they go to Allegan County," Smith explained. "This way, it's deployed fully and we move Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan all at the same time."

The fiber-optic cables and service to Central Dispatch will be provided by Peninsula Fiber Network NextGen 911 Services. It will take an estimated 18 months for the infrastructure to be in place to officially switch the services over, Smith said.

Ottawa County Central Dispatch has undergone several technology updates in the past two years. All in-car computers for police officers have been replaced with newer models and an updated software system. Because all police officers receive information from Central Dispatch countywide, the upgrades included the Sheriff's Office, Holland Police Department, Grand Haven Department of Public Safety and Zeeland Police Department cruisers.

Currently, the county is in the midst of updating its emergency radio system. The county will deploy 2,000 new radios over the next couple of months.

"There's a lot of technology changes going on around here," Smith said. "The more information we have, the quicker our dispatchers can get the right folks out there to help. We want to get help out to you as soon as possible."

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