New 911 System For East Hartford, Manchester A Better Fit For Cellphones

Manchester and East Hartford have new emergency communications systems that reflect the rise of the cellphone as residents' preferred, and often only, phone.

The "next generation" 911 system can pinpoint the location of cellphone calls, police said. Previous equipment could only place those callers in wide areas relative to the nearest cellphone tower, a frustrating and time-consuming problem when calls were made near borders with neighboring towns, police said.

Installed in August in East Hartford, the new digital system is part of an ongoing statewide upgrade by the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (http://bit.ly/2f7QpoV) and AT&T.

The new system was installed at the Manchester police station in July. Other advantages over previous equipment include stability and ease of operation, Police Chief Marc Montminy said.

Future improvements in all dispatch centers that have the new system are to include the ability to send texts to 911 and also to transmit photos and videos, capabilities that could prove valuable in certain emergencies, police said.

For instance, East Hartford police Lt. Don Olson said, a person trying to escape an attacker during a home invasion or domestic violence incident could text a call for help instead of speaking and giving away a hiding spot.

"This new system is an investment in the security and welfare of our residents," East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc said.

The town's communications center is one of 104 "public safety answering points" in the state, which receive more than 2 million emergency calls each year. About 80 percent of those calls now come from cellphones. In the first quarter of this year, East Hartford fielded 7,166 calls through 911m and 5,499 came from cellphones, police said.

"It is vital that our agency keep up technological developments to continue to provide the best services we can to our community," East Hartford Police Chief Scott Sansom said.

In the last half of 2016, just over half of all homes in the nation had cellphone service only, according to a federal government study released in May. About 39 percent of households had both landline and cellphone service.

The state had to temporarily halt 911 upgrades last year after the system broke down, failing to connect many emergency callers, authorities said. No emergencies went unreported or unanswered, though, as systems were rerouted to others that were functioning, similar to what is done during power outages, a state official said at the time.

AT&T switched subcontractors after the breakdown, and the next-generation system now being installed is the Viper call platform, a product of West Corp. (www.west.com). Installations at municipal and state call centers began in January and are to continue into November.

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