Fiber optic 911 network could have made a difference in Harrisburg

9:38 PM, Mar 14, 2012   |    comments
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By Kasey Joyce

Harrisburg, IL (KSDK) - It's being called the next generation of 911 and it's going to be tested in southern Illinois. Harrisburg is at the center of the testing zone.

Many city officials are wondering what would have happened if the system was in place when last month's EF-4 tornado hit.

On the morning of the tornado, more than 2,100 calls came into the Harrisburg 911 center. There were only a handful of dispatchers on duty, so needless to say, some of those calls went unanswered.

The calls started just before 5 a.m. They didn't quit for hours.

"I've been here 20 years and I've never seen it that busy," said dispatcher Mike Davis. "All of our 911 lines were ringing at the same time. Our business lines were full."

There were only two dispatchers on duty and another four came in to help. But dispatchers say, it's nearly impossible for six people to answer thousands of 911 calls.

That's the problem with the current 911 system, your calls go through the traditional phone system, so if the line is busy, you're out of luck. But an IP-based 911 system could solve all that, and it's only about a year away from becoming reality in Harrisburg.

Saline County is one of 15 Southern Illinois Counties chosen to be part of a National 911 test program called Next Generation 911. The key is a fiber optic network that will enable you to send more information to 911 when you're in trouble.

For instance, if the tornado hit, you could send pictures of your injuries to 911, they can forward it to first responders and the hospital. And if the local 911 center was busy, neighboring counties on the fiber optic network would be able to answer your call.

If it works in Harrisburg, it won't be long before it's in St. Louis, which means less of a burden on dispatchers and help can get to you sooner when you need it.

Members of the Harrisburg 911 team are headed out to Washington, D.C. in two weeks to meet with the FCC about the new program. They hope to start testing it in June.



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