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County Helps Upgrade 911 System: Expands Features, Improves Location Accuracy


Does 911 really know where you are? Thanks to the work of multiple Buncombe County departments, the location information emergency responders depend on is more accurate than ever before. While Emergency Services has always had reliable data, the County’s work on the statewide deployment of Next Generation 911 (NG911) means more ways to communicate during an emergency, improved location accuracy, upgrades to on-scene information for first responders, multi-agency compatibility, and more. 

As Buncombe County nears completion of its work on this project, 911 Call Center Manager Brooke Hazlett says its functionality will be immediate and welcomed. “With more people calling from cell phones, improved location accuracy means we’ll be able to route a call based on the caller’s location, not from the wireless tower that received the call,” notes Hazlett.?  

Of course, integrating Buncombe County’s data with the rest of North Carolina is no easy task. But thanks to collaboration between the County’s IT, Planning, General Services, and Emergency Services departments along with the City of Asheville and other municipal partners, the process has not only gone smoothly, but received a clean audit from the state.  

The implementation of a statewide Emergency Services IP Network relies heavily on GIS data and IT Manager Gene Hume says, while complicated, the upside is tremendously beneficial. “If a 911 center cannot take calls for some reason, like a hurricane, those calls can be answered by other 911 centers that will have access to their data,” explains Hume. “That means all 100 state counties must have their data in the same format. There has never been a statewide standard, so we started at 100 different data formats.”  

County Planning Director Nathan Pennington says the clean audit shows our NG911 data can be integrated across North Carolina. “Staff from multiple departments have worked tirelessly with the state to reach a goal of zero critical errors in this process,” notes Pennington. “This process will assist us in moving away from an analog network of landlines and into the next generation of tracking emergency needs through texts, photos, and the use of cell phones.” 

This process also means some addresses in the County had to be changed to eliminate duplicate addresses on structures and duplicate address ranges on roads within certain community sections of Buncombe County. “While address changes may be unpopular, ultimately they are critical to assure faster response times, which translates into saved lives, especially in a global pandemic,” notes Pennington. Hume agrees, “We changed as few addresses as possible, but it was not possible to eliminate this process all together.” E911 Addressing Specialist Mila White explains, “Eliminating these duplicates means when a call comes into the 911 call center from a specific address, there is no time loss with the dispatcher trying to understand which Mountain Cove Road they need to be responding to.” 

The statewide system is scheduled to go live on Nov. 4, 2020. Buncombe County is proud of the dedication and hard work our multiple departments have done over the past year to help bring this service to our community. 

Benefits 

  • Improved location accuracy 
  • More accurate on-scene information to first responders 
  • Improved responder safety 
  • Continuity of patient data 
  • Multi-agency interoperability 

Check out this short video to see how NG911 benefits our community. 

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