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New 911 to be cell phone friendly


Upgrades won't lose calls, accepts text and video


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Keeping tabs on all in-coming and out-going police communications requires all of Jean Froggatt's attention. Froggatt is communications supervisor for the Lake Geneva Police Department. As high tech as this looks, the police department is seeking an upgrade to its 911 equipment that will expedite 911 calls from cell phones and improve identification of call locations and buildings that may need police or fire department protection.

July 01, 2013 | 12:39 PM
By the end of this summer, the Lake Geneva Police Department hopes to have a 911 system in place that won't lose 911 calls.

Cell 911 calls made to the Lake Geneva police must first go through the Walworth County Sheriff's Department's communications system.

"If you call 911 on a cell, the county asks your name, phone number and location," said Rasmussen.

The call is then transferred to Lake Geneva, and there is a 15-second delay, during which about half of the cell phone calls are dropped.

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When the city receives the call, all the dispatcher screen shows is a call-back number and a general location of where the call was made, or, perhaps, the location of the cell tower from which the call was transferred.

If the call isn't dropped, the caller will again have to give his or her name, phone number, location and purpose of the call, Rasmussen said.

If the call is dropped, the dispatcher dials the call-back number in an effort to reconnect with the caller.

"In certain cases, we will have to call back," said Rasmussen.

In all cases, officers are dispatched to the scene, he said.

"We do respond to every call," Rasmussen said.

The system change is needed.

On average, cell calls accounted for 67 to 70 percent of all 911 calls received by the Lake Geneva Police Department from January to May, Rasmussen said

And the first five months of the year are slow.

"We'll jump an extra 100 calls per month until August, and most of those will be cell phone calls because many of those who call are tourists," Rasmussen said.

The project to transfer 911 cell calls directly to the Lake Geneva PD is in the capital budget. And it's not that expensive.

It takes about $900 in fees to get the service switched, Rasmussen said.

However, it requires coordination with AT&T, the city's cell telecommunications provider. Rasmussen said he recently met with a sheriff's department representative, a representative from AT&T and Delavan Police Chief Tom O'Neill to try and expedite the 911 call transfer from the sheriff's department to the Lake Geneva police dispatch center.

Rasmussen said there are some technical details that need to be worked out.

He said he expects the transfer to occur at the end of summer. While too late to handle the tourist season cell 911 calls this year, Rasmussen said the timing will give the department's communications staff some time to get used to the new system.

That improvement will be one of two that the police department is planning for its aging 911 communications system.

The second involves a step up in emergency communications technology that will allow the city's 911 communications center to accept text messages and video from 911 calls, said Jean Froggatt, Lake Geneva Police Department's communications supervisor.

Texting and video are now common components of cell phone communications. But 911 is not configured to accept text or video, said Froggatt.

AT&T is now experimenting with texting and video, she said.

The city wants to buy the advanced 911 system as soon as possible, so that once AT&T decides to make the service generally available, the city will be ready to accept video and texts with 911 calls, Froggatt said.

An immediate benefit will be that the police and fire departments will be able to share schematics of buildings where 911 calls originate.

The police department does dispatching for the fire department.

But the fire department also has a system which calls up a schematic of any building the firefighters will have to enter.

The schematic also shows locations of entrances, exits, fire hose connections and other pertinent information, such as storage of flammables and hazardous materials.

Froggatt said the new 911 system will allow the police department to do the same.

Froggatt said it will be a benefit to officers to know the layout of the building they're going to.

If the scene is an apartment building, the map will list the apartment numbers.

Looking at the actual 911 hardware can be a bit disappointing.

It's just a simple box. And it won't change all that much, once the improvements are completed, Froggatt said.

However, the current system is dated. t was installed for $100,000 in 1993 and updated in 1997, Froggatt said.

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