State police upgrades to $7M next generation 911 system

By Dana Amihere

Maryland state police badgeThe Board of Public Works approved Wednesday the State Police’s purchase of a $7.1 million advanced 911 system which could allow citizens to call, text or even tweet for help.

The State Police, which handles about 3% of the state’s crime calls, will not only be on the cutting-edge of technology, they’ll have, well, technology.

Presently, 21 of the agency’s statewide barracks locations lack an automated answering system. All police dispatchers except Frederick County’s –– which is located in a 911 call center –– rely on a regular telephone using a 10-digit number to receive calls transferred from 911 call centers.

Catching up to the times

The enhanced 911 system, alternately known as Next Generation 911, will allow the State Police to recover a lost call directed to them and receive the same location data that a 911 call center receives from the phone used to make the call.

“There is catch-up going on but it happens that the technology we’ve selected to catch up is surpassing [the existing system],” State Police chief information officer Michael Roosa said.

The Internet protocol-based system is prepared to handle new communication methods like texting, video, Twitter and Facebook. Roosa says the State Police are “trying to stay proactive” so that people who may only have access to one of these technologies or can’t make a phone call can still be helped.

While the system is expensive to maintain at about $500,000 per year, Roosa said that contracting with a mainstream provider like Sprint or Verizon, which supports the state’s call systems already, would’ve been significantly more costly. Frequentis USA of Columbia, a subsidiary of a European company, was chosen in part for its cost-effectiveness.

The contract is for six years, but Roosa said that the pilot system on the Eastern Shore should be fully operational by next year with the remaining jurisdictions to come online in the second year.

“We’ll be able to take a call on the Eastern Shore and track it all the way to Garrett County in the west as it passes over to the barracks and never lose any of the information as we go.”