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.