Although Somerset and Swansea callers will still hear the familiar “What’s your emergency?” when they dial 9-1-1 and will receive the same service, the process happening on the other end of the line has greatly changed.
In April 2017, the Somerset and Swansea Police Stations adopted a new 9-1-1 emergency response system, called NG9-1-1 (Next Generation 9-1-1).
The NG9-1-1 system allows digital information, such as calls and text messages, to be transmitted from the public to emergency responders. Next Generation 9-1-1 has enhanced the old emergency response system by making it faster and more flexible by incorporating current technology use. It is for both cell phones and landlines.
Although the response time remains mostly the same for the Somerset and Swansea Police Stations, there are enormous benefits with tracking and location with NG9-1-1.
“It just gives us a more exact location [when a call comes from a cell phone] that we didn’t have with the last system,” Costa said.
“We’re getting better locations because it pinpoints the area more and because it shows us the house or building where the call is actually coming from, which is a big advantage,” Aubin said. “It’s a very good system.”
The vendor of the old 9-1-1 emergency response system was Verizon. But when Verizon was no longer going to be the provider of the NG9-1-1 system, the state of Massachusetts mandated that the Somerset and Swansea Police Stations adopt General Dynamics as the provider of the new response system.
Massachusetts is the first state to adopt General Dynamics as a vendor for the new 9-1-1 response system. Somerset was the 101st community to adopt the new system out of 252 Massachusetts communities, and Swansea soon followed.
Even though the Somerset Police have the capability to receive text messages, only the Massachusetts State Police are doing so at the moment.
However, the dispatchers in both Somerset and Swansea as well as the State Police still prefer that the public call if there is an emergency.
The old system with Verizon, called the VESTA system, was in place for approximately 15 years at the Somerset Police Station.
The switch from VESTA to Next Generation was supposed to take place 2 1/2 years ago, but the Somerset Police had to go through a process called Geo-Mapping beforehand.
Geo-Mapping is the system of assigning numbers to different complexes in town, so when a call comes from a particular building, the map will show the actual building that it is coming from instead of an address. Aubin said that this was an enormous time saver.
The NG9-1-1 system took about six weeks to be implemented.
The process started in Somerset when Aubin began receiving updates and having meetings with people from the new provider, General Dynamics. Then the state would go to the Somerset Police Station to try to coordinate everything.
Both Somerset and Swansea had to go through training to use this new system. Swansea Police Station Senior Dispatcher Terri Shileikis says that Swansea spent eight hours in Middleboro at the 9-1-1 Center learning about the new system, both in a classroom-style and hands-on approach.
“There was a lot of behind-the-scenes work being done on gathering all the phone numbers, confirming them from the old system. We had to make sure it was all updated,” Shileikis said.
When the equipment for the NG9-1-1 system was brought into the Somerset Police Station, they had both systems up and running at the same time for about two weeks.
“For a while, we had computers under the desks,” Aubin said.
The final changeover to the new system took about six hours for Somerset and eight hours for Swansea.
A few weeks ago, they did the final removal of all the Verizon equipment for the Somerset Police Station. The first day the new system was implemented, the state kept a technician present to ensure that everything went smoothly.
Although both the old system and the new system give the dispatchers the same basic information, such as the telephone number, address, and name of the caller, there are many differences between the old and new response systems.
Next Generation 9-1-1’s “mapping system is phenomenal," Aubin said. “It’s much better than what we had before.”
Aubin explains that, with the old system, when someone made the call on their cell phone, the tracking radius would be 1 1/2 to three miles around the site where the call was made, causing it to be very difficult to pinpoint the exact location.
The new response system uses satellite imaging on Google Earth to identify the exact location of the call, shrinking the radius to 100 yards.
“It’s a huge improvement,” Aubin said.
Shileikis said that the mapping of the old emergency response system was very generic. She likes the new system because “we get to see more of the area where we’re sending the officers because it uses Google Earth.”
Shileikis’s dispatch partner, Nichole Costa from the Swansea Police Department, says that she sees two major benefits of NG9-1-1.
“If someone’s lost in the woods, we have easier access to track them. We can pinpoint where they are,” Costa said. “We can also regenerate cell phone calls and get their exact location if they’re moving. We didn’t have that ability before.”
Next Generation 9-1-1 also makes the process of obtaining the caller’s information faster and allows the police to respond to an emergency with greater efficiency.
If a person was missing in a wooded area, with the old system, the dispatchers had to call the cell phone company and have them pin the phone, which was a lengthy process: they filled out a form, which the company sent back and gave them the longitude and latitude of the caller.
Now, they get the longitude and latitude automatically. When the call comes in, the computer monitors give the dispatchers the address of the building, location of the call, the cell phone company the call is coming in from, and the call back number.
The new system has other capabilities that were previously impossible with the old response system.
NG9-1-1 contains “soft keys,” which are synonymous with speed dial. The new system can hold up to 30 speed dial contacts in addition to the unlimited amount of contacts that it is able to accommodate in the phone directory.
Also, conference calls can include an unlimited amount of callers.
Aubin states that NG9-1-1 is “a lot different than what we had. We’re getting a little better at understanding it, but we’re still getting accustomed to different things.”
Since the implementation of the new system, the Somerset and Swansea Police had to do numerous test calls. Both are frequented by test TTY Calls (teletype calls for the deaf and hard of hearing) from the state.
The dispatchers at both police stations must type their responses to the callers during these tests. With NG9-1-1, “it’s more user-friendly. You can go back and forth with them very quickly and get them the help that they need,” Shileikis said.