Mineral County eyes 911 system overhaul

| November 18, 2020 12:00 AM

By MONTE TURNER

Mineral Independent

Mineral County Sheriff Mike Toth is lobbying for new equipment for the county's 911 center.

The current equipment at the 911 emergency call center, known to most as ‘dispatch’, at the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office was installed in 2008.

“It’s on life support,” Toth said. “911 center's equipment has a life span of five years, so we have passed the ‘borrowed time’ twice over.”

Lisa Kelly, who is an account manager with Lumen (formerly Century Link), and Bill Daniels, who is the statewide E-911 Supervisor with Vision Net, spoke at a recent commissioners meeting to discuss replacing the equipment with an entirely new system.

Kelly said there are a couple centers in eastern Montana which have systems similar to Mineral County's in age and experienced some near miss incidents because of the condition of the equipment.

One county has two servers, such as the current one the county has, but both went down.

“They lost the mapping system but had radio contact and, in this case, it was fortunate that the deputies and 911 dispatcher were very familiar with the backroads of the area in need of assistance,” she said.

Jordan and Miles City are 80 miles apart and have combined their call centers for a cost savings, but it has presented unique problems and isn’t recommended. If or when Mineral County were to lose 911 capabilities, everything would shift, through Lumen, to Missoula County until its was up and running. That’s Plan B, and it’s an acceptable insurance program for a band-aid repair.

For instance on Saturday, Oct. 24, Mineral County received a record-breaking snowfall and power was lost at the Sheriff's Office and the 911 call center.

Daniels was able to get the equipment back in operation but parts to the system are outdated and it may not be the same story next time.

Mineral County, Lumen and Vision Net have worked together for years with this system to keep it plugging along.

“Heck,” said Daniels, “I was one of the technicians who installed your system so I’m familiar with much of the wiring in this building.”

Some of the features with a new system is the automatic display of the name of the caller and their GPS location. The dispatcher has a display on the department(s) that needs to be notified in accordance with the emergency be it fire, medical or law enforcement with automatic speed dialing.

A keypad system versus mouse clicks is more efficient and became one of the most advantageous upgrades dispatchers have ever had. Everything is logged and tracked in another system with all of the exact times, locations and essential information that is required today.

The price tag isn't cheap - $194,000, paid upon completion of all services. But it includes the equipment, installation, dispatch training with the first-year maintenance contract included. The new equipment also has a suggested lifespan of seven-year lifespan.

Currently there is no maintenance contract, so the county pays $140 an hour when work needs to be done. After the initial year, it is $13,000 annually.

“A big feature is that most of the repairs can be conducted remotely so I can be at home in Great Falls repairing the issue eliminating drive time,” said Daniels.

Toth said there is a grant which becomes available next month through the statewide 911 program. It requires a 25% match. Award announcements will be made in July 2021 for those who apply.

“It’s a state mandate that we are required to provide for public safety, so we need to make sure we’re doing that. If our 911 equipment is worn out or duct taped together, which it sounds like it is, we have to do something soon”, said County Commissioner Chairman Roman Zylawy.

Toth reminded the commissioners that his department has received, and will receive more money through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He had tentatively earmarked some of this for radio upgrades but could place that on hold and pull the trigger on this new equipment now.

Discussions are taking place but no matter what is done, it appears that a state of the art 911 Emergency Call center is in the works and without any additional funding needed by the residents.