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New 911 system allows for better interconnection with agencies, texting to 911

The new 911 system was installed the week of Jan. 17. Stutsman County is the second county in the state with a new mapping system.

andrew kirking emergency manager 020822.jpg
Andrew Kirking, emergency manager for Stutsman County, explains Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, the role of the dispatch center located in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Stutsman County’s new 911 system will allow for better interconnection with state agencies, better workflow and texting to 911 to local dispatchers, according to Emergency Manager Andrew Kirking.

The new 911 system was installed the week of Jan. 17. Stutsman County is the second county in the state with a new mapping system, Kirking said.

“The big change for us is streamlining the workflow, and it is more connection with the state for information sharing, which is great to have when we have a corridor like (U.S. Highway) 281 and a corridor like Interstate 94,” he said. “So it is that interconnection with agencies that are not in Jamestown or Stutsman County.”

He said he does not have a solid figure for the cost of the new system. He said the project was started with former Stutsman County Emergency Manager Jerry Bergquist.

“We ended up paying a greater upfront cost, but with our month-to-month licensing, we are saving 80% over the old system,” Kirking said. “That is part of the reason we are going with it. Of course it integrates, but I’m responsible for every taxpayer dollar. Looking through these options, that was the time when I was coming on, but I’m hearing from Jerry and a lot of support from the (Stutsman County) Sheriff’s Office saying this is great.”

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He said the new mapping system and computer-aided dispatch system were done through Central Information Systems.

Kirking said the maps, which are currently being worked on, will allow dispatchers to give better directions to first responders to accidents or other incidents happening throughout the county. He said the maps help track a caller and can be helpful to locate someone who is new to the area or to get around a slough that first responders don’t know about.

The Stutsman County Communications Center has three stations for dispatchers. When calls come in, all the information is shared with each dispatcher, he said.

“A lot of times station one gets a call for medical, station two can be listening in, and at the same time they can start thinking ahead and actually have an ambulance paged out before we are even off the phone call, while staying in contact the whole time,” Kirking said.

He said an added benefit of the new system is when a call comes into the communications center, it is plugged into a map and the caller’s location can be found.

He said the mapping was the missing piece. He said the mapping company will update the maps when requested.

“It’s been really nice because my folks have been able to say, ‘Hey we want to see every mile marker,’” he said. “Our mapping company will … write a code for it, push the update, so we are able to suit it to our needs on the fly as it gets built out.”

Kirking said the last update that will be done is for radio traffic and recording phone calls. The new system will allow dispatchers to work with state agencies better for pursuits or anything that crosses jurisdiction lines. He said he hopes to see that update this year or next year.

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He said the radio update will allow for better penetration through basements and through other smaller and older buildings.

“It’s also going to give us way, way better coverage out and about,” he said.

He said the communications center will get better encryption with certain radio channels such as law enforcement and ambulances.

“Anybody with a scanner can listen in to everything we are talking about right now,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time that doesn’t mean anything, but with some of the operations we need to be a bit more discreet so it is giving us better encryption,” Kirking said.

The new system allows Stutsman County dispatchers to answer texts to 911 locally. He said if someone texts 911, the individual will be able to have a conversation via text messaging with dispatchers.

“We want to treat it like a 911 call,” he said. “We don’t want it to be abused. We don’t want it to be used for something it is not meant to be.”

Kirking said Stutsman County does not have language support where people can text in any language. He said the county has a third-party vendor that the text can be routed to.

“It’s not quite up to speed where we want it to be, but it’s better than nothing,” he said.

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He said the new 911 system is only geared for Stutsman County and not shared with other counties. In the past, Richland and Stutsman counties shared a single system split between two locations.

“Back in the day, if you wanted 911 in your county, you had to buy all this equipment,” he said. “Jerry had a very good relationship with Richland. They went in together on equipment for that very reason. If we lose our system, we can at least run on their stuff and vice versa. Right now it’s still nice to have, it’s still in place but I see it going away as the state expands their capability.”

Related Topics: STUTSMAN COUNTYJAMESTOWN
Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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