COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Next Generation 911Apr 23, 2021 09:24AM ● By Editor
Imagine that you’re out exploring some of Cook County’s remote areas when you find yourself dealing with an emergency. You reach for your cell phone but find it has a weak signal and you can’t call 911. What do you do?
Thanks to Next Generation 911 (NG911), you could try sending a 911 text message instead.
NG911 is a nationwide update to the entire 911 system using new technology that allows people to share more detailed data such as images, texts and video. It also enhances the ability of 911 call centers to communicate with each other.
The progress for implementing NG911 varies across the country, but the progress to modernize the 911 system has already increased the level of public safety for Cook County residents and visitors. In November the Cook County call center gained the ability to receive text messages. In addition to situations where “Text-to-911” may be useful due to signal strength, it increases access to these services for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech disabled.
“The way data flows, you’re more likely to get a text message to go out than even be able to make a call based on signal strength,” said Cook County GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Analyst Kyle Oberg.
Although the ability to send images, videos and emojis is part of the plan for NG911, this feature isn’t currently available in Minnesota. In fact, sending anything other than plain text will prevent dispatchers from receiving one’s location information. Minnesota’s Text-to-911 system will eventually get an upgrade that will allow images, videos, emojis and graphics. Until then, it’s important to remember the system limitations and to avoid slang and abbreviations when using Text-to-911. Language translation isn’t available yet for texts so, if English isn’t your first language, experts recommend that you call.
The new texting capability also allows the call center to respond to abandoned calls or misdials from a wireless phone by sending a text message asking if the call was actually an emergency or not.
“Having this new technology will help a dispatcher when they are on a true emergency and an abandoned 911 call comes in and it is wireless hang up — the dispatcher can focus on the emergency while keeping an eye and ear on the abandoned call to see if the party replies via text with a ‘no,’” said Lindsay Mielke, Cook County Lead Dispatcher/Public Safety Systems Specialist.
In Minnesota, the move toward NG911 is paired with a GIS data project focused on upgrading the state’s emergency 911 system with GIS data from local partners, including county governments. This new GIS data will result in improved address verification as well as faster and more accurate emergency response.
Oberg and other GIS employees around the state have been working closely with the Minnesota Geospatial Office and Emergency Communication Networks, a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, to migrate all of the authoritative data from counties and cities into the new standardized format so that NG911 can be implemented on a statewide scale.
“There’s a pretty involved GIS validation process going on at the local level, getting data cleaned up to this new standard and following all of the requirements,” Oberg said.
That work appears to be paying off already: the 911 call center received precise, accurate coordinates from a recent call made by someone stuck in their car on an unplowed road despite poor cell phone signal.
“When we couldn’t call the person back, we sent a deputy to check the area,” Mielke said. “The location we received was exact. There was a family out there and the deputy got them a tow going.”
In addition to increased digital and GIS data capabilities, NG911 will also allow for faster network communication and call load sharing between 911 call centers. This means that if a call center becomes overwhelmed with calls, perhaps due to a mass casualty incident or natural disaster, then calls can automatically be transferred and processed by another available 911 call center.
“Everyone in the county should feel more comfortable that in the event they have an emergency, chances are we will be able to find them a lot faster and get help to them.” Mielke said.
County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service