News Column

Ames Police Department upgrades outdated 911 system

January 29, 2014

By Melissa Erickson, Ames Tribune, Iowa



Jan. 29--Ames police recently completed major upgrades to the city's 911 system, replacing what officials say was an outdated emergency communications system.

"The nice thing is, citizens had no idea, there was no interruption of service, no busy signals or anything," Ames police Cmdr. Geoff Huff said of the system upgrade.

The upgrades involved new software and hardware, such as new computers and monitors for the dispatch workers, as well relocating the dispatch center from the City Hall basement to the first floor following renovations to the police department last year.

"We were at the point also where we were replacing a lot of equipment anyway," Huff said. "It happened to work out perfectly that we moved the new equipment at the same time as the update."

Emergency Communications Supervisor Sarah McClure said the new system is a "more stable platform to operate."

"The old (system) had been in place since 1986," McClure said. "It was out of production, no new parts were available."

The new system puts Ames police on a shared 911 system with Iowa State University Police and the Story County Sheriff's Office, meaning calls can be tranfered between the agencies without a disruption of service, McClure said.

"The system we had before was not a shared system, we were on the same system, but it wasn't integrated," McClure said, noting that the three agencies now share the same backend equipment as well as the costs and maintainance of the 911 system.

"If we have to pick up and operate from another location, we can do that seamlessly, with no disruption in services," she said.

McClure said while the advantage of the new system may not be noticeable to the public, it is an advantage in service.

One capability officials say the new system doesn't have, but likely will in the future, is the ability to text to 911.

"A lot of bigger agencies have had that capability for a while, this would be new to us," Huff said. "Hopefully at some point you will be able to see that."

The updated 911 system was one of the final steps of phase one of city hall renovations that included a new Emergency Operations Center and parts of the police department, which were completed around the end of November.

City officials say phase one renovations cost just over $1 million. The new EOC was supported by a $600,000 Homeland Security Grant. The rest of the funding came from the city's general fund.

Phase two of the renovations will focus on City Hall's basement, which houses police detectives and locker rooms, and the city's print shop and Public Works Department. City officials have also said during phase two, they would like to move the city's information technology department into the City Hall basement from its current location in a building across the street from City Hall, which would eliminate the rent for the external office space and bring IT staff closer to the people and equipment they support.

Phase two will also include a renovation of the police administration offices. Huff said phase two is still in the early planning stages.

"Until we get an architect on board, we won't really know what the time frame will be," Huff said.

Once an architect gives a projected cost for the phase two renovations, the plan will be submitted to the City Council. If approved, and once the project has been drawn up, it would then go out for bid.

An open house for the new EOC will be held at City Hall Friday from noon to 2 p.m., with a program at 1:30 p.m.

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(c)2014 the Ames Tribune, Iowa

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Source: Ames Tribune (IA)


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