Central dispatch to switch to fiber optic network in 2019


ARENAC COUNTY — Residents of Arenac County will be able to contact 911 via text message as early as March as Arenac County Central Dispatch continues the process of hooking up with the Peninsula Fiber Network.

Nearly every county in Michigan has transitioned or is in the process of transitioning from the old copper lines to the PFN, central dispatch Director Yvonne King said, which will not only allow residents to text 911, but also will provide dispatchers the ability to transfer their phones to any other entity hooked up to the PFN.

“The copper lines are just waiting for any point and time to fail,” King said. “And if they go down, there is no replacing them.”

The ability to text 911 would allow individuals to contact dispatch discreetly if they are unable to speak openly, and would make it easier for residents with speech or hearing impairments to connect with dispatch operators, King said.

In the past when central dispatch had an issue, calls would be transferred to Bay County, but because Bay County has already transferred to the PFN, Arenac County has to forward its calls to the closest county still on the old phone system, she said.

King said in a recent situation where their phone lines were down, calls were redirected to Lapeer county.

While the initial advantages of the PFN are texting capability and a safety net in case the phones go offline, King said it also allows the possibility of further advancements down the road, such as the direct connection to schools in the area and the potential that callers could provide pictures and video.

Ultimately, connection to the PFN allows central dispatch to adapt to technological advancements going forward, which will benefit Arenac County residents, she said.

“It’s going to be a great advantage for the consumers,” King said.

Central dispatch began the process in March 2018 after the board of commissioners passed a resolution approving the transition, King said.

Since then, in the 2018 midterm election, county voters approved the renewal of the central dispatch millage, projected to generate approximately $751,950, and the county received $8,140 from this fall’s 2 percent distribution to go toward the PFN project.

King said dispatch is currently trying to find an agency that will provide the most cost-efficient deal for a phone system compatible with the PFN.

The first estimate for the installation of the phone system was $181,000, King said. But after seeking out other agencies, central dispatch is currently looking at an installation cost of $102,000.

“We are going to keep working and checking other companies,” King said. “For the people and taxpayers of this county, if there is any way to get the same services for the same equipment from a different agency, I think we owe it to them to do that.”

While residents will have to wait a bit to be able to text 911, King said something people can do right now to improve dispatchers’ ability to respond to an emergency situation is to set up a Smart911 profile.

Smart911 is a free service that allows residents to set up a profile including information such as picture identification, address, family members and their contact information, medical conditions and whatever other information the user is comfortable with making available to emergency response.

Dispatch can then access that profile during a 911 call, which improves responders’ ability to handle the situation, King said.

To sign up, visit www.smart911.com and set up a profile, King said, adding that the process takes around 20-30 minutes.

“We are looking forward to the change,” King said. “We are looking forward to the possibilities of the new technology changes and that we will be able to be a part of it and the better 911 services we will have here.”


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