The evolution of 911, communities working towards next generation technology

By Wayne Allen

July 12, 2014

By Wayne Allen

Like most technology these days the moment you purchase it, you see an advertisement for something better and with more features. The same can be said for the technology that runs area 911 systems.

According to the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office and the Greenup County Enhanced 911 Centers, each are in the process of updating their current 911 system to a system that will allow area residents in addition to calling to send text messages along with photos and videos to a 911 dispatcher.

The dispatcher will then have the capabilities to communicate with the sender if further information is needed.

Shawn Sparks, a Captain with the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office who oversees the operation of 911 center, located within the Scioto County Jail said 911 has been in operation in Scioto County since 1994.

When asked how the system and the technology has evolved over the years Sparks said, “it’s really helped us, Before someone would call and say, ‘there is a domestic at this house, to get there you go out 104 and you pass the white trailer with two dog pins.’ That’s the way it has been, now a days when someone calls 911, we are able to get a GPS (Global Positioning System) signal on where they are calling from and if we’ve never been there before we can google it and locate the house.”

Sparks said through one of their systems they can also see how many times and reasons officers have responded to that location in the past.

Sparks said the technology supporting the counties 911 system is run through Frontier Communications.

“I do know they are working on a new generation of 911. I’m currently working with Frontier Communications who is our vendor for our 911 systems. Their new system for the new generation is supposed to be up and running by the end of the year,” Sparks said. “With this new system everything will be updated including the maps. Also we will be able to receive texts and we can also send texts.”

He said having the ability to send and receive text messages will be of benefit to the department and citizens of Scioto County.

Sparks said some of the benefit comes from people some people moving away from home phones or land lines.

Within Scioto County there are three 911 systems in use with the Sheriff’s system acting as the main system. Other systems in use include one in the city of Portsmouth and the village of New Boston.

Sparks said once the sheriff’s office system is updated the other systems will be updated with the same capabilities.

He said the future of 911 is headed in a more technological direction.

“I do see there being a need for home phones. The new generation of people will go to this texting, but you will have your diehard grandmas and grandpas who don’t like cell phones or computers and will continue to use their land lines,” Sparks said.

When asked if he thinks the new technology will be utilized by Scioto County residents Sparks said, “I do.”

With the advancement of technology often comes a hefty price tag. Sparks said the new system will cost the department several thousand dollars.

“I am currently working with Frontier and I know for a fact it’s going to cost several thousands of dollars. There is a lot of equipment in place to make this (911) run right,” Sparks said.

He said with the new system, efforts will be made from the sheriff’s office to inform the public about the system capabilities.

“With the new system we will have to train our dispatchers and at some point we would get ahold of the media to inform the public,” Sparks said. “With the new system if you can’t call you can always text, with this also we can receive photos. If someone witnessed a crash and can send us a photo, we could use that to help the fire department and police have more information when responding.”

Sparks said the Scioto County 911 center stays busy and it would be hard to estimated how many calls 911 dispatchers receive in a given year.

“On an eight hour shift I would say we get 50 calls if not more. Some of those could be a phantom call, it does not happen a lot, but a lot of times its someone dialing 911 unknowingly while their phone is in their pocket,” Sparks said. “Occasionally we will get a child call. One of the issues we’re having now is when mom or dad is done with their old phone, they give the phone that’s not working to their child. What they don’t know is, if that cell phone powers up it will still call 911 regardless.”

Sparks said he advises people to give those phones to a mother or father that does not like the technology, because the phone will still be able to dial 911 in an emergency.

He said some of the current challenges of the 911 system in place include, “a lot of time when people call in they will tell the dispatcher they are in Portsmouth, which in reality they are in Rosemount which is in the county and we’re transferring that call to the city,” Sparks said.

He said other challenges include, “it used to be if you see 354 or 353 you know it’s in the city. What’s happening is, a lot of calls from Franklin Furnace are 354 or 353. Also if you move from within the city to South Webster a number of phone companies will let you take that same number with you.”

He said they are hopeful this issue would be resolved with the installation of better GPS technology.

“One of the biggest challenges we care facing in money. With any kind of equipment, any kind of technology there is always a fee involved. We do recoup some money from cell phone users,” Sparks said. “Whenever you use a cell phone you’ll see there is a 911 fee, everyone pays that fee through a phone vendor,” Sparks said.

He said monies garnered from the fee helps to fund local 911 operations. Sparks said in Scioto County money is also appropriated from the sheriff’s annual budget to help fund operations.

He said there are currently seven dispatchers that work in the 911 center. Sparks said the department is looking into hiring an additional dispatcher.

Buford Hurley II, E911 Director for Greenup County, Kentucky said they are also anticipating getting a system upgrade by the end of the year that will allow them to have the capabilities of sending and receiving text messages. .

Hurley said in order for them to have texting capabilities their system has to be based on an IP (Internet Provider) based network.

“We’ve been on the central Kentucky 911 network for two years. The next phase for us is to replace our analog phone system with an IP based phone system that will allow us to receive texts, that comes in place for us in November,” Hurley said. “The next step is to make sure the central Kentucky 911 network and the cell companies are ready to deliver that. The cell companies are there.”

Hurley said they hope to have the capabilities to start receiving texts from the public anywhere between April and June of next year.

“We would like to start receiving texts by April, but if that comes about sooner that would be great,” Hurley said.

When the Daily Times spoke with Hurley, he was attending a National Emergency Management Association Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We went to the expo to see the technology and it’s unbelievable what’s coming out in the next four or five years,” Hurley said. “I do see that type (being able to receive text messages, photos and video) of technology as being a half to thing.”

Hurley said one of the biggest advantages of having an IP based phone system, “we are partnered with a multitude or counties including one of the largest ones Lexington. What happens is if Boyd and Greenup County are both on the network and if we get overloaded or if our system fails. The line will start to ring in Boyd County and if they have issues their lines will ring in Greenup County.”

Hurley said this insures the 911 lines are getting answered.

“That is the beauty of this whole thing and to me was worth any amount of money we had to put into it,” Hurley said.

He said the cost of the IP based phone system is based on how many dispatchers you have.

“Right now for us the total coast is $120,000, we got a $105,000 grant from the Commercial Mobil Radio Board Service. The county it’s self will pay the other $15,000,” Hurley said.

Hurley and Sparks believe their communities will take advantage of the next generation of 911 systems available to them.

For more information about the Greenup County E-911 Center visit them at For more information about the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office visit

Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT