Ottawa County is on track to have its 9-1-1 system upgraded and in full operation by the end of the December
The replacement process was already underway when Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick took office a year ago. Progress, however, was hampered by foot dragging on the part on a vendor and that had to be addressed, he said.
“This is something that has to happen now,” Levorchick said of the upgrade now in its final stages before launch. “We are at the end of life with this thing…It’s nothing I did. It’s the 9-1-1 committee. They made sure this got going.” The 9-1-1 committee is made up of county officials, law enforcement, fire/EMS staff and citizens.
The system has been good to Ottawa County, the sheriff insisted, but the equipment is simply nearing its life expectancy.
9-1-1 became the national emergency number for the United States in 1968. Basically, calling this single number provided a caller access to police, fire and ambulance services. The number itself, however, did not become widely known until the 1970s, and many municipalities did not have 9-1-1 service until well into the 1980s.
The 9-1-1 emergency telephone system was introduced in Ottawa County in 1997.
Over the past two decades, there have been a number of renovations to better operations. One of the major changes was a merger with the Wood County system under then Sheriff Bob Bratton administration around 2005.
That relationship allowed Ottawa County and Wood County to tie their systems together and enable each system to back up the other.
“At the time, we were having a lot of problems with fiber optic line cuts. It would knock the system out,” said Sgt. James Lucas, the communications supervisor for the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. “If something happened, we could go to Wood County for help and vice versa.”
In 2007, the system improved by becoming a wireless network. Prior to wireless, 9-1-1 callers connected with the sheriff’s office general line at 419-734-4404. Wireless allowed calls to come directly into a 9-1-1 line that automatically provided dispatchers the caller’s number, the address of the nearest tower signal and GPS coordinates, Lucas explained.
The current, old 9-1-1 system has some redundancy built into it. Calls can be transferred to Wood County. But the new system is more seamless,” said Fred Petersen, Ottawa County Emergency Management director.
Lucas describes the replacement system as a “geo-diverse system” – that is one system, equipment included, will be shared by two counties.
“Our equipment is shared. It’s a redundant system. All backups are in place. If we lost operations, we could operate our entire system from their site,” Lucas said. In cases of long term downtime, dispatchers from Ottawa County could be sent to Wood County to man the phones for the Ottawa County portion of the calls, he added.
The cost of this collaboration is $680,000. Ottawa County’s share is $160,000. Wood County will pick up the remainder.
Lucas noted Ottawa County operates its 9-1-1 through the sheriff’s office and the Port Clinton Police Department. Wood County’s share is larger in part because its network is larger and contains municipalities such as Bowling Green and Perrysburg.
The local portion will not pick the pocket of taxpayers or require county commissioners to dip into general fund coffers.
Funding is covered by the money that has accumulated from a 9-1-1 service charge included on cell phone bills. “That money goes to the treasurer’s office and right now there’s enough money in there to cover the costs,” Lucas said.
“If we had gone on our own it would have cost us so much more,” Levorchick added. “Plus there is the added security of having that improved backup system. Having these two system partnered is incredible. We also have the capability for others to come on with us – to solidify the system.”
The 9-1-1 committee has been working with Frontier, Time Warner, Advanced Wireless Technologies and Caffidian to bring the final product to fruition. Caffidian, a Michigan company, makes the equipment.
The equipment manufacturers will actually set the equipment up in their shops and pre-test the telephone technology for bugs prior to installation here, according to Lucas.
“The equipment should be here in a couple of weeks. They will do trial and error tests and check it out thoroughly. They have been a good company to work with,” he said.