Soon you can text your 911 call
Guelph is looking to switch to a “new generation” 911 system that would allow people to text a call for help to dispatchers, and eventually to send photos and video from crime scenes.
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GUELPH — Guelph is looking to switch to a "new generation" 911 system that would allow people to text a call for help to dispatchers, and eventually to send photos and video from crime scenes. Bell Canada is looking to unbundle itself from the 911 emergency phone call system, and the federal government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission are encouraging the move. The changes will allow people to text their emergency call if they want and not have to phone it in. But the change will cost municipalities, as significant upgrades are required to make it happen. Jonathon Green, manager of IT systems for the Guelph Police Service, explained the changes to members of the Guelph Police Services Board on Thursday afternoon. He said the 911 system has been in place for 30 or 35 years and hasn't changed much over that time. But technology and its users have changed significantly, Green said. "The last thing people do with their hand-held technology is talk on it," Green said. "If we don't change, they aren't going to use it (911) anymore." The way the system works now, Bell Canada plays a big role in relaying information to and from dispatch centres. "Bell doesn't want to shift the information anymore," Green said. With the new system, Bell is only involved in one part of the information transfer. Bell Canada will cover the cost and installation of fibre-optic cables so people can send text messages, and eventually photos and video, when emergencies occur. But the equipment and interface costs will be more than $100,000 for Guelph. The CRTC has said infrastructure changes for this "new-generation 911" system must be started in early 2014 and the system must be up and running 18 months later. "Our plan is to have it going by late 2014 or early 2015," Green said. Right now there's a two-second delay in connecting 911 calls; the new system will be instant. "So we anticipate the volume in pocket dialing will increase to 10 more a day," he said. Pocket dialing, in which a phone inadvertently calls 911, requires a return call from a dispatcher to ensure there's no real emergency, and that's labour-intensive. "It ties up a communicator," said Sgt. Cate Welsh. "A dial-back can take several minutes. We expect the new system will impact the number of people in that unit." Police have a three-part plan to implement the system. Phase 1 sees the infrastructure installed. People with hearing impairments will be the first to be able to send text messages for emergency assistance. Phase 2 expands the texting component to the general population, and Phase 3 includes capability to send photos or videos to 911 dispatchers. Green said photos from eyewitnesses can help identify suspects and show an accident or crime in progress. "The challenge will be storage and retention of these images. If it's a major crime, we have to keep it for 25 years. And there could be a human toll on staff at the communication centres. They could receive some pretty gruesome pictures," Green said. Chief Bryan Larkin said police will work with Guelph fire and ambulance services on this and said there might be grant money to defray some of the costs. "This is very important and very timely, and key to emergency management," he said.;
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