Maryland officials are moving to improve 911 technology to allow for emergency calls made by text and multimedia messages.
The Board of Public Works last week approved a seven-year, $7 million contract to Columbia, Md.-based Frequentis USA Inc. after enabling legislation was passed unanimously in the General Assembly this year.
“Our 911 systems are getting to the point where they’re pretty outdated,” said Shane Sarver, a spokesman for Delegate Craig J. Zucker, who introduced the bill. “This is a way to modernize.”v
The new system, called Next Generation 911, will support voice, text, data and multimedia messages. But full functionality, which includes the text, data and multimedia options, will not be available statewide for some time, Maryland State Police spokesman Michael Roosa said.
In the near term, the system will give 22 Maryland State Police barracks that serve as secondary 911 answering stations access to data about emergency callers, Mr. Roosa said. Currently, these locations do not have the ability to automatically determine a person’s phone number or location, which causes problems if a call disconnects after it’s been transferred to a police call-taker. And information from barracks in one part of the state cannot be transferred to another, he said.
“What we are building is a statewide system,” Mr. Roosa said.
State police with the new system, for example, also will be able to track the location of a cellphone of a person in a moving car who has made an emergency call.
A pilot version of the program will be installed on the Eastern Shore in the next fiscal year.
“We’re rather confident in it,” Mr. Roosa said.
The program’s implementation will begin Oct. 1. The system will run on networkMaryland, the state’s public-sector high-speed network, Mr. Roosa said.
Several counties in Virginia have begun to implement Next Generation 911 as well. Verizon provides multimedia capabilities at emergency response call stations, said Linda Cage, director of communications for the state’s E911 board.
In 2009, Black Hawk County in Iowa was the first emergency call center to enable 911 text messaging. Now communities in Vermont, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arkansas also provide the service.