Feds send cash to states for Next Generation 911

Ionia County

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan is in line to receive close to $4 million in funding to bring the next generation 911 to communities.

Across the country, $109 million in federal dollars will be split among 34 states and two tribal nations.

Many West Michigan 911 dispatch centers are already ahead of the game when it comes to the future of getting you the help you need in a hurry.

You’re driving through Ionia County on I-96 and you have emergency, but you’re not sure where you are. You pull off the road and use your cellphone to call 911. There’s a good chance the county dispatchers will know exactly where to find you. Using Smart911 technology, they can pinpoint you cellphone not by pinging off towers, but rather by GPS.

“Through our Smart911, they partnered with a company called Rapid SOS. The Rapid SOS system actually zeroes in on the GPS coordinates that the phone’s providing,” explained Jim Valentine, Ionia County’s 911 director.

Smart911 is one of the technologies used by many 911 centers.

But it’s not just the computer programing that emergency responders rely on. Old copper wired systems can’t handle the data that drives the next generation. Ionia’s decision to connect to fiber optics and additional bandwidth has set the center up for more advancements.

Ionia’s dispatch center is small. In an emergency, neighboring Barry County dispatchers can fill in. In the future, if a problem that knocks Ionia out of service, Barry dispatchers can take over without leaving their center.

“We could go to a virtual dispatch in emergent situations,” Valentine said. “We have our systems that are either in place or soon will be, so as these new features roll out under next gen, we’re set to go.”

Not everyone is currently benefiting from the technology. Smaller communities and urban areas may not have funds to invest in technology that can help pinpoint cellphone users, communicate by way of text or stream video.

So the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Transportation have issued $3.9 million in grants for communities to acquire the equipment they need to move into the next generation. $2.8 million will be set aside to allow local communities to apply for additional funds, according to State 911 Administrator Harriet Rennie-Brown.

The remaining $1.1 million will go toward upgrading geographic information systems that collect and store information mapping information. $500,000 will be used to upgrade the statewide repository systems and $600,000 will go to local 911 centers for GIS upgrades.

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