Itawamba County Sheriff hopes to upgrade 911 equipment soon

Work continues on bringing Itawamba County’s 911 emergency service equipment up to federal standards, according to Sheriff Chris Dickinson.

During Monday’s meeting of the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors, Dickinson told the board he’s actively working on a solution for upgrading the county’s 911 service to be Phase II compliant, meaning that the locations of calls made via cell phones can be traced.

“We hope to get something up and going very soon,” Dickinson said.

For the past several weeks, the board has met with various companies that sell and install 911 equipment. This week, Jim McCreary with Precision Communications talked with supervisors about the necessity of upgrading its emergency service equipment, explaining the various upgrades available and the costs of these additions. According to Dickinson, for the time being, the county is interested in the “meat and potatoes” of the service, looking to purchase just enough equipment to meet federal guidelines in order to save money.

The equipment the county is looking to purchase would allow cell phones to be tracked quickly. As a call comes in to 911, the equipment will pick up on the phone’s signal and pinpoint its location on a GPS map, which could then be sent out to similar mapping units installed in emergency vehicles, if available, saving time and, hopefully, lives.

In order to upgrade the county’s 911 service to full compliance, almost every piece of equipment currently being utilized by the county would need to be replaced. The total estimated cost for this upgrade is $140,000, but the county expects to cover approximately $100,000 of this expense with federal grant money.

The county’s 911 equipment has lagged behind federal standards for years. According to Dickinson, the county desperately needs to upgrade its equipment.

“We can still receive calls, but we have nothing that shows us where the caller is located. Right now, if a caller doesn’t tell us where he or she is, we don’t know,” the sheriff told the board.

Although this may sound like a bad situation, and the sheriff admits it is, Itawamba County isn’t the only area floating in this sinking ship. The cost of upgrading 911 equipment has limited many counties in the amount of upgrading they can do. Additionally, many counties, including Itawamba County, are struggling to finance their 911 services due to decreased revenues from local phone companies, which has created a cost barrier difficult to cross.

“Believe me, you are not alone in this problem,” McCreary told the board.

McCreary added that, when purchased, the new equipment would be fully upgradable. The current equipment, purchased in the 1990s, is not upgradable, which has made the cost of bringing the service up to modern standards so costly.

“Our equipment has just become obsolete over the years,” Dickinson explained. “That’s why we’re trying to purchase something that is fully upgradable; so that we never have to go through this again.”

The county’s 911 service is currently housed inside the Itawamba County Jail. Dickinson said he eventually hopes to move the service into a larger space which will allow for growth.

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing adam.armour@itawamba360.com or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.

Adam Armour/The Itawamba County