Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Mid-Michigan connecting 9-1-1 systems

By DAN SMALLWOOD

Capital News Service

LANSING – Improvements to the capacity of some mid-Michigan and Upper Peninsula counties’ 9-1-1 systems to increase reliability are starting to be put in place.

Jim Fyvie, the director of Clinton County’s central dispatch, is leading development of a virtual consolidation of 9-1-1 systems in Clinton, Livingston, Ingham, and Eaton counties.

The estimated $1.7 million project would create a network of those counties’ systems and add failsafe mechanisms in case one system is overloaded with calls.

Fyvie said the “virtual backup system” will keep emergency lines connected even in cases where lines are overloaded or unavailable by transferring calls automatically to another dispatch center.

Transferring calls already happens several times a week, and automating the system can save time and money, Fyvie said.

When completed, Fyvie said the new system could save each county more than $1 million by streamlining operations.

Fyvie said the project will cost an estimated $1.7 million, to be split up by participating counties based on the size of their operations.

While the counties have sought grants to help cover the cost, Fyvie said these efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

A similar project is underway that would connect U.P. 9-1-1 services, and Fyvie said other counties are also looking into similar initiatives.

The virtual consolidation, which began in 2007, will allow call centers to share calls and dispatch resources. Fyvie said the system is expandable and could easily add new counties. He said the consortium that manages the mid-Michigan collaboration had already received requests for additional members.

State 9-1-1 Administrator Harriet Miller-Brown said Internet, or IP-based, inter-connectivity is important, especially in major emergencies, such as a large accident or plane crash when 9-1-1 systems can easily get overloaded.

In such situations, Miller-Brown said the system’s inherent redundancy is helpful, keeping calls in the system until they are handled. Redundancy means, in essence, that lines would have a backup in case of an emergency.

If one center goes down because of too many calls, thus overwhelming the phone lines, then another in the network will automatically pick up incoming calls. Right now, such transfers must be done manually, which can be time consuming in situations where time is of the essence.

While redundancy normally is a dirty word in government, in emergency work “redundancy is good, because it means public safety continues,” she said.

Fyvie said implementation of these virtual backup systems eliminates the need for physical backup sites and ensures that calls are answered.

“If they have to evacuate the center, citizens would see no loss in call reception ability,” Fyvie said.

The system will be based around two servers, one in Livingston County and one in Ingham County, to facilitate sharing resources among the centers. Multiple counties can then plug into these servers, Fyvie said.

“Just those servers will be enough for quite some time,” he said, even with more counties plugging into the system.

Eventually, a next generation 9-1-1 system will allow operators to receive text messages, photos and videos from callers, Fyvie said.

Fyvie said the four years of work that have gone into building the system and the partnerships it relies on will make it much more efficient and useful.

“Each of our centers are essentially the same,” he said, “though each has their own way of doing things.” Working together will reduce costs and “provide the best level of service for all our citizens.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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