By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
“People won’t realize just how great this new 911 system is until they have to use it,” said Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson, patting one of the system towers.
“We’re ahead of the curve now,” he said. “In fact, there are phone companies out there that have technology that will have to keep up with us. I’d say we have one of the nicest 911 systems in the state.”
Needless to say, the sheriff is proud of the county’s new 911 emergency system, which went into operation early last week. The system is far more advanced than what the county had previously been using and will, the sheriff is certain, save lives.
When a caller dials 911, the Zetron system provides dispatchers with a bevy of information including home address, phone number and, most importantly, current location. Whether or not the caller dials the emergency line on a traditional landline phone or cell phone no longer matters, emergency officials can track the location.
Those with GPS-enabled cell phones — as most phones manufactured today are — can even be located within three feet of the phone. The system is that accurate. It is also able to track calls that come across an internet protocol line, such as calls across the Vonage phone system.
Additionally, the new system can build a database of information on the caller, giving the dispatcher invaluable information he or she can provide to the responders.
“If they call and they can’t talk to us, we’ll still have an idea of where to go, what’s going on and what we need to do,” Dickinson said. “Say we go on a call and then go back on a repeat call, the system can even tell us if there’s a bad dog in the yard.”
It’s a far cry from what the county was using. According to the sheriff, Itawamba’s 911 system was long outdated when he stepped into office more than three years ago.
“I realized when I first came in that our 911 system was outdated,” the sheriff said. “I also realized the potential trouble we were going to have.”
Additionally, the equipment the county was using was obsolete, making replacing individual parts difficult.
“We were actually two years out of compliance with the federal government,” he said, adding that the old system was incapable of tracking cell phone calls, which was a potentially fatal flaw.
“If someone had a medical issue and called us on their cell phone, we couldn’t find them,” the sheriff said. “If the cell phone number didn’t show up on the screen, we had no way of knowing where the caller was.
“A new 911 system wasn’t a want; it was a need,” the sheriff added.
Dickinson said he went to the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors to request the purchase of a new system, which kicked off the process.
One of the challenges facing the sheriff was trying to raise enough money to purchase the new system. He said he spoke to Rep. Donnie Bell, an Itawamba County native, who helped secure a $174,000 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which helped fund the project, including the cost of equipment, installation and training.
The switchover in equipment also allowed the sheriff to move the physical location of the 911 dispatch system from tucked inside the county’s jail to a larger, more private space in the justice court building. He said the move was much needed.
“Having a lot of foot traffic coming and going through the jail isn’t ideal,” Dickinson said. “You want that to be a relatively quiet area. Now, ours is a quiet area.”
The sheriff said that while most people, hopefully, won’t need to use the new emergency system, it stands as a great improvement to the county’s overall safety.
“The kitchen that we built saves money; this new 911 system will save lives,” the sheriff said, adding, “You can’t put a price tag on that.”
Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com
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