Sometime before the middle of next year, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office expects to upgrade its 9-1-1 system. People who call 9-1-1 in emergencies may not notice much difference – but behind the scenes, the Office could provide faster, more efficient service.

Last May, the County received a $140,000 grant from Montana’s Department of Administration to support the cost of a new 9-1-1 system – one of 49 awards made this year to counties, municipalities, and wireless service providers from a state program created by 2017 legislation.

Since then, said Jefferson County Sheriff Craig Doolittle, the Sheriff’s Office has been talking to potential vendors and participating in on-site demonstrations of existing systems, toward completing a request for proposals (RFP) that should be put out to bid in December. Doolittle hopes to have the new system in place and operational by mid-2020.

The upgraded emergency system comes on top of a broader effort to update the Sheriff’s Office’s records management system. Last December, the department put in place new hardware and software that combines computer-aided dispatch, mobile mapping, detention records and other services.

That new platform, Doolittle says, allows dispatchers to see and use more relevant information at once, and it brings more information to deputies in their cars – automatically providing maps that guide them to calls, for example, and allowing them to write and print citations in real time, check license plates, and produce reports.

A new 9-1-1 system should connect to and better integrate with the updated records system – and it could automate tasks that currently are done manually. For example, Doolittle explained, 9-1-1 calls from mobile phones are routed by cell towers to nearby law enforcement agencies. When those calls come to a Jefferson County dispatcher, that person now must press a button that instructs the system to triangulate with other cell towers to more precisely map the caller’s location. Newer 9-1-1 software can do that automatically.

The Sheriff’s Office also is looking for a system that can integrate emergency calls via text, according to Doolittle. That function currently is done by a separate application.

More generally, a new system will upgrade a service last replaced in 2005. The County’s aging Viper brand system, Doolittle says, has become difficult to service and support. (And not least, the hardware that powers the system will take up a lot less space.)

“The service we provide now won’t change,” Doolittle said. “But hopefully it’s going to make it easier for us to respond to calls. Hopefully, the process becomes smoother, and we become quicker to respond.”

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