GIS work was essential for next-generation 911 upgrade, says Florida county official

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Officials in Sumter County, Florida, announced Friday they’ve started using a next-generation 911 system that will allow first responders to reach emergency scenes faster.

Authorities in the 130,000-resident county, which sits west of Orlando, contracted with Lumen Technologies to deploy an IP-based 911 network that more accurately locates callers than the previous system, which is nearly 50 years old. Sumter County’s upgrade is one of many across the U.S. amid a transition to a digital emergency services network designed to eventually also handle photos and video. The new capabilities are hoped to provide first responders a richer understanding of emergency scenes before they arrive.

Though photo and video capabilities for 911 aren’t yet live in Sumter County or anywhere else, Stephen Kennedy, the county’s 911 coordinator and assistant administrator, told StateScoop the upgrade represents a major step forward for public safety. But because the majority of emergency calls are made from mobile phones, he said the county first needed to improve its geographic information systems data.

“We realized the next steps would require a heavy focus on GIS services and mapping and data-synchronization with the master street address guide and address layers,” Kennedy said.

He said the county spent the last two years working with a company called Akimeka to synchronize all of its location data. The National States Geographic Information Council last month published a report showing that many states exhibit similar gaps in GIS capabilities that will need mending before next-generation 911 can be deployed. The group found that only 34 states have processes to create an authoritative set of GIS data.

“That [work with Akimeka] made it realistic that we could get a full-core solution at that point,” Kennedy said. “Without that we could not have moved to the next-gen system.”

Kennedy said the project’s next steps include waiting for the major wireless carriers to complete a process of rerouting their traffic to the new system over the next two weeks. He said Sumter will then shut down its legacy 911 system and begin working with neighboring counties to develop county boundary layers that ensure calls can be effectively routed between answering points, another major draw advertised by next-generation 911 systems.

“Then it really becomes dynamic in the sense of how we can do some failovers in terms of routing in case of emergencies between different agencies, so I’m very excited about that opportunity,” Kennedy said.

He said the project required no up-front capital because Lumen uses a per-circuit pricing structure. Kennedy estimated operating the new system will cost about $9,000 per month, comparable to what it pays to maintain its existing system.

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Florida, GIS, Lumen, Next Generation 911, Sumter County
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