December 24, 2008 Edition

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Communication center upgrade
increases response capabilities

Lawrence County 911 Communication Center Coordinator Peggy Miles takes a 911 call at the Communications Center, located inside the Lawrence County Courthouse.
TD Photo ~ Frank Witowski Jr.
Frank Witowski Jr.
Staff Writer

Be prepared. The scout motto takes on a whole new dimension when a life and death situation is at hand. A new upgrade to the Lawrence County 911 Communication Center has given local law enforcement agencies the technology to assist in a quicker, more efficient manner.

"We're really excited," Lawrence County 911 dispatcher Paige VanBrook said. "I've been a 911 dispatcher for 11 years with this county, and we have never been as prepared for an emergency as we are today."

With the new technology, which includes a digital map, 911 cell phone calls can be traced to any structure in Lawrence County. When a 911 call comes in, the digital map zooms in on the location where the call came from.

"It will pinpoint the caller's location within 20 feet," County 911 Coordinator Peggy Miles said.

"Many times, the computer can trace a cell phone to the exact location (and house number). It will give exact directions with specific details such as if the home has a long or a short driveway."

According to Miles, emergency personnel and law enforcement are able to get to a crime scene, accident or other emergency quicker because locations of incidents are pinpointed on the digital map.

"We're blessed to have it," Miles said. "This will save time, which saves lives."

Miles said the new upgrade, completed Oct. 8, is especially important as 73 percent of the county's 911 calls are made by cell phone.

"We can trace cell phones as long as the line is open, which can help if someone is held against their will," Miles said.

Miles added the upgrade has also helped when callers have been frantic and given a wrong location for the incident.

"We saw the correct location on the digital map, which is helpful when seconds count," Miles said.

Surrounding counties are also installed in the digital map's memory bank, which assisted law enforcement in a police chase a few weeks ago as the offender left Lawrence County.

Miles noted that 911 can be accessed by deactivated cell phones and calls can be traced from them. She said many times parents give deactivated cell phones to children, not realizing they can dial 911 in a non-emergency.

Cost of the 911 upgrade

The Arkansas Emergency Telephone Service Board reimburses the county for 73 percent of the cost of having the new $65,000-plus 911 system in place. A Homeland Security Grant covers the other 27 percent of the cost of operating the system.

Two dispatchers are on duty each shift to manage the Lawrence County 911 Communication Center. The dispatchers are in communication with 13 fire departments, two ambulance services, two helicopter services, eight law enforcement agencies and three wrecker services.

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