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New 911 system accelerates response times

Lawrence Pierce
Russell Emerick (left), deputy director of technology for the Kanawha County Metro 911 system and 911 director, and Kanawha County Sheriff Johnny Rutherford (right), demonstrate 911's new computerized dispatch system. The system integrates and streamlines lots of different functions into one fast and simple package.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On a "cool" scale of one to 10, Kanawha County's new computerized 911 dispatch system is about an 11.

"The bottom line is we're going to be able to get on a crime scene or to someone with a medical emergency anywhere from seconds to 20 minutes sooner," said Kanawha County Sheriff and 911 Director Johnny Rutherford.

"That's going to save lives."

Fifteen months and $1.1 million in the making, the new computerized dispatch system went online earlier this month. Russell Emerick, deputy director of technology for Metro 911, said the new system streamlines and speeds up everything the old system did, while adding features dispatchers could only dream about before.

"One of the biggest enhancements is in the mapping," said Emerick.

At a keystroke, dispatchers can pull up side-by-side street maps and aerial photographs of the entire county. Dispatchers can use the information to help pinpoint emergency callers by looking for nearby landmarks, tracking emergency calls and noting the presence of calls in the same area.

But the maps contain more information than that. Dispatchers can see not only every active call in the county on the map, they can tell whether it's a police or a fire call. Technicians are working to add live tracking of ambulances on the map, so dispatchers can send the closest one to an emergency.

After a 20-inch gas pipeline exploded into flames in Sissonville in December, Emerick said technicians added the location of every major gas pipeline in the county to the map. The map shows where the pipeline is and who owns it.

"That would have been nice to know [in December]," Rutherford said. When the Columbia Gas Transmission line exploded and caught fire Dec. 11, it took emergency crews nearly an hour to track down the company responsible for the pipeline and get the gas to the pipe shut off.

Emerick said the maps show all kinds of local street names, landmarks, bridges, roads, waterways and rail lines. "It shows you the fire hydrants," he said, noting that dispatchers can use the maps to tell firefighters where the nearest source of water is to fight a fire.

Missy Bennett, a 911 dispatcher for the past five years, said the maps and aerial photographs can be used to help give emergency responders directions to the scene of an emergency or to help callers figure out exactly where they are.

Rutherford said the new system is already paying off.

Last week, dispatchers got a frantic call from a woman near Mink Shoals. Rutherford said the woman was screaming that her boyfriend had tried to tie her up with zip ties and was beating her, but was unable to tell dispatchers her location.

Bennett said the new 911 system was able to "ping" off of the woman's cellphone until dispatchers had an approximate idea of where she was. She said a cellphone only gives dispatchers a latitude and longitude reading, but by pinging the phone several times, a more precise location can usually be established.

"She was hiding from the guy, so we were able to go to her instead of the scene because we had the cellphone coordinates," Rutherford said. Deputies soon located Adam Lee Arnold, 36, of Charleston, and charged him with domestic assault and domestic battery.

Bennett said the new system is better than the old 911 system. What used to require switching screens, tabbing through extraneous data boxes and several steps can now be done almost instantly or through one or two keystrokes.

"It's just a lot faster than it was," she said. "Now everything is in one place."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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