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Ada County 9-1-1 Center Plans for the Future
Author: Tim Russow, Ada County Sheriff's Office
There’s hardly a person today who doesn’t have a smartphone. At the touch of a screen, the world is in the palm of our hand, but 9-1-1 centers have unfortunately fallen behind in most technology advancements.
Ben Ealey, director of Emergency Communications, describes the status of technology in much of the 9-1-1 world today, especially in the Ada County Sheriff’s Office in Boise, Idaho. “Our public safety network is like [the] Sony Walkman in 1988, but we’re going to an iPad-type technology.”
The Ada County 9-1-1 Center was built into the basement of the Sheriff’s office in 1977. That’s almost 36 years of emergency call taking and dispatching from the same windowless room, and upgrades in technology have been limited. 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) across the nation have been playing catch-up with technology to help the millions of tech-savvy and tech-dependent American citizens.
With training advancements, new training methods and different skill sets must be utilized to succeed in this new advanced environment. “There’s a lot of things that have to change,” Ealey states. “And that’s why [a] technology roadmap, or business plan is so important.”
Technology upgrades are one thing, but the Ada County 9-1-1 Center is also moving to a new facility in the near future. Ealey describes the current center, “It’s like having all of your electronic equipment in a bathtub. The stopper’s in for the drain, except, we don’t have a stopper to evacuate the water.”
Luckily for Ada County, Ealey’s 20 year-plus experiences in wireless technology will surely help this portion of the public sector move forward. Ealey says that in the State of Idaho alone, there are 620,000 landline users and 1.2 million wireless users. “With banking, you can take a picture and deposit a check, citizens live for social media [like] Facebook, Twitter – it’s just that next evolution,” he says.
Ada County 9-1-1 and centers around the country face the real challenges of incorporating these types of technologies into their daily routines. “I’ve seen from both sides what it takes to actually make it work versus how [to] translate that into a business case and storyboard that you can explain to your senior leadership and shareholders. The benefit of private sector is, a lot of this has been done before,” Ealey says.
Ada County 9-1-1 Dispatch Manager Cortney Dennis adds, “I think the main challenge is that we have an unknown – it’s so new that a lot of it is just discussion, just preparation for what the future might be; the next 3 to 5 years, it’s going to be a different world – it’s going to be a complete change from what we know.”
Changes are happening, but like anything in the public sector, change comes slowly. But Ealey seems prepared to handle this transition. “We can’t kick the can down the road any longer – it’s not if, it’s when. And when it happens, you have to have a very good plan to facilitate that,” he explains.
Tim Russow is celebrating 10 years as a 9-1-1 Operator at the Ada County Sheriff’s Office in Boise, Idaho, and also worked as a 9-1-1 Operator for Waukesha County Communications in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Russow is holds an advanced certification from the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED), and is a certified CPR instructor for the American Heart Association. While dispatching police, Fire and EMS full time, Russow is in his senior year at Boise State University. He will earn a bachelor’s degree in English, writing emphasis in May of 2013.
Photos of the Ada County 9-1-1 Center by Andrea Deardon, Public Information Officer, Ada County Sheriff's Office.