Plans are in the works to connect 911 dispatch centers across Kentucky and nationwide to help dispatchers share information more effectively.
Paul Nave, director of Owensboro-Daviess County's 911 dispatch center, said the plan is to connect dispatchers via the Internet, which would allow centers to transfer calls, 911 text messages, photos and videos of accident scenes, and other information quickly. The ability to transfer data such as text messages already exists and is part of "Next Generation 911" technology that is being installed in dispatch centers around the country, including Daviess County.
In an emergency where a dispatch center's equipment is damaged, calls could be routed back to the local dispatchers from another 911 call center, Nave said.
"It's interesting to think we can still do the job and (use) a server 100 miles away, and it will be seamless," Nave said.
Paducah Fire Chief Steve Kyle, chairman of the Paducah-McCracken County E-911 Emergency Communications Services board, said Next Generation technology is a step most 911 centers are working toward.
"You hear a lot of talk about Next Generation. The technology is so far ahead of what we've been using," he said. "Logically, I think this is the next step for everybody."
However, the Paducah-McCracken County E911 center is not capable of handling 911 text messages at this time and is surviving on outdated analog systems.
"As we go forward to purchase and upgrade equipment, we will have to look for Next Generation compatible technology," he said. "But we've been focused on the efficiencies of our operation and how we operate, not necessarily technology. Those were more immediate concerns."
Joe Barrows, executive director of the Kentucky Commercial Radio Service Board, said 911 dispatch centers are phasing out old analog technology. The board was created in 1996 to comply with federal requirements that cell phone carriers connect their services to 911 systems. The board is also working to expand new 911 technology; one of the board's goals, according to its "Next Generation 911" plan, is to create an "IP (Internet Protocol)-based network to receive, process, route and deliver all 911 calls within a State of Kentucky Managed Network."
"What's happening in the 911 world is a modernization of the 911 system that has been in place and operating on technology that is 30 years old," Barrows said. "911 is the last holdout ... for analog.
"Today, we have a lot more ways in which people communicate, (such as) texting and videos," Barrows said. "None of that is compatible with the old 911 system." With the new technology, "you'll now deliver 911 calls digitally over an emergency services network," he said.
Nave said the idea is to have regional hubs of equipment, which 911 centers will share over the Internet. The regional hubs would be connected with one another through hardwire and through wireless; if a regional center had an equipment failure, 911 calls could be routed through servers in another hub and sent back to the affected center, Nave said.
"If we have redundancy throughout the state, if I'm on the network ... and part of our infrastructure goes down, it will default to (a center in) another part of the state," Nave said.
Connecting the systems nationally will allow dispatch centers across the country to transfer 911 calls more efficiently, Nave said. For example, if a Virginia resident visiting Owensboro receives an emergency call from home, he might call 911 with the assumption he'll reach a Virginia dispatch center, when the call will be routed to Daviess County's 911 center.
In that case, a local dispatcher will be able to route the call to the Virginia center quickly, rather than having to look up a number to call, Nave said. The system would also share GPS data, text messages and photos and video sent to 911 from smart phones, Nave said.
"We want to get rid of the 'stove pipe systems,' which means I have my system, but it doesn't communicate with anyone else," Nave said.
Nave and Barrows both said the federal government is not requiring states to create emergency services networks, but both said they expect a federal mandate in the future.
Barrows said funding for the infrastructure improvements comes from money the state collects from monthly 911 fees on landlines and cell phones. Officials interested in expanding 911 technology are working to educate legislators about the new technology, Barrows said.
Fees from landline telephones have declined as people get rid of those phones, and the current fee on cell phones is under-collected, Barrows said. A bill to raise the amount collected on cell phones from 70 cents to one dollar for 911 centers did not pass in this year's General Assembly session.
"The process is ongoing, but hasn't culminated yet," Barrows said. "We're educating a few (legislators) at a time."
The Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro contributed to this article.