New 911 system makes runs safer

HANCOCK COUNTY — Nationwide public safety data is now at the hands of local 911 operators with an upgrade to the county’s dispatch system, boosting safety and efficiency for all areas of emergency response, officials said.

InterAct, the county’s new 911 system, utilizes cloud computing to connect agencies and shares information about callers, arrestees and active emergency runs across jurisdictions. The $600,000 upgrade replaces an outdated system that was installed more than two decades ago.

InterAct lets 911 operators access national databases that give police officers more information about the individuals they meet on the road, officials said. At the same time, the system automatically uploads information from the computer programs already in use by local police and fire departments, freeing up time officers would formerly have spent uploading information about an emergency run and getting them back on the street more quickly, said James Roberts, Greenfield Fire Territory chief and president of the dispatch center’s policy board.

Using names or driver’s license numbers, dispatchers can access the criminal record of someone pulled over by the police, for example, said Emergency Operations Center director John Jokantas.

The old system looked at local information, but InterAct pulls up records from other counties and states, and the dispatcher can warn a police officer if the person they’ve stopped has active arrest warrants or prior encounters with police, giving the officer more background on the individual they didn’t have access to the past, Jokantas said. From there, the officer can better determine what action to take, like calling for backup before interacting with a suspect.

InterAct puts that information at a dispatcher’s fingertips, said Greg Shamblin, a 911 supervisor; before, they’d have to leave their workspace to use a single computer in the 911 center to look up a person’s background, he said.

InterAct also gives Hancock County dispatchers the power to summon neighboring agencies who utilize the same system to emergency calls here as well, officials said. Should first-responders from another county be called in to assist, local 911 dispatchers can immediately communicate with other agencies that use the InterAct system.

With the old program, a dispatcher had to stop to make a phone call to contact the neighboring agency for help.

Everything about InterAct, from its bells and whistles to its up-to-date software (the county’s last 911 overhaul came in 1990), makes dispatching help to emergencies faster, Shamblin said.

And the faster the dispatcher is, the faster the officer can be, he said.

Hancock County paid for the bulk of InterAct’s $600,000 price tag with money borrowed in 2013, said Brad Armstrong, president of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners. Public safety agencies across the county paid for software and licensing fees — about $100 per fire truck or patrol car — needed to update their own equipment.

Armstrong said the county leaders often let public safety officials lead the discussion when it comes to deciding what updates might need to be made to equipment their departments use.

When the dispatch center’s policy board suggested purchasing InterAct, the program was relatively inexpensive for features it offered, he said, and made police and fire leaders feel safer.

“The guys on the street were wanting the information faster,” Armstrong said. “Now, they are in a good position.”

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.