E911 upgrade to accept text messages, photos, videos

Shelby County’s Enhanced 911 agency will be equipped to receive text messages, pictures and videos from callers this time next year.

A nationwide initiative known as Next Generation 911 has prompted E911 to offer public communications services in a wireless mobile society, said John Ellison, executive director of E911.

Ellison said one half of the new system will be installed at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in Columbiana in mid-July. The other half will be installed at E911’s headquarters at the Shelby County Services Building in Pelham in early August. Each half will operate independently.

“The main advantage is having the system divided across the county, so we’re not subject to one event happening at one building and that taking out all of the equipment,” Ellison said. “Now it’s much less likely that a tornado or a fire would completely cripple us.”

E911 has chosen CallWorx of Huntsville to install the new system at a cost of $300,000. Emergency calls will be transferred to the new system after testing and configuration are completed, Ellison said. E911 will be able to receive text messages and other data once the agency connects to the Next Generation online network.

The new system will also allow police, hospitals and emergency agencies to communicate with E911 on private online networks.

Ellison said the state is seeking a $40 million grant to provide agencies across the state with Next Generation networks.

“These kinds of services will be delivered to even the most rural areas in Alabama,” Ellison said. “It’s our interest that everyone has good service.”

A system upgrade was due for the agency. The current system, which is 10 years old, also cost $300,000 to install. The new system keeps costs down while providing better quality service, Ellison said.

“We’re getting a good improvement to the system at a nice cost,” Ellison said. “We’re getting geographic diversity through improved technology, we’re getting more service, and that’s good news for the citizens.”

Despite the coming improvements, Ellison said calling 911 via a landline or cellular phone will remain the ideal method.