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St. Charles County 911 system to get $11.3 million upgrade

Jim Manning, left, and Ryan Dodson monitor 911 dispatches on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in the St. Charles Emergency Operations Center. The county is spending $12 million over the course of several years to upgrade its dispatch system, including making it easier to locate cell phones.
Tristen Rouse
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jim Manning, left, and Ryan Dodson monitor 911 dispatches on Nov. 17 in the St. Charles Emergency Operations Center.

A planned upgrade to the St. Charles County 911 system will make it easier for dispatchers to pinpoint the exact location of a call.

Eighty-five percent of calls into the county’s Emergency Communications Center come from cellphones, said Emergency Communications Director Jeff Smith. The current system uses the location of nearby cell towers to narrow down where a person is calling from; the upgraded system will take location data directly from the mobile device.

Most of the time, the triangulation process is pretty accurate, Smith said. But it can be a relatively time-consuming process, especially if someone is close to a neighboring county or near the Illinois border. That often requires transferring a call to multiple agencies.

“We can potentially save 30, 60 seconds on identifying where a person is, and that's 30 or 60 seconds sooner that we can get help on the road to them.”

That 30 seconds to a minute can be critical in situations like a stroke or a heart attack, said Jeremy Hollrah, deputy chief of special operations and logistics for the St. Charles County Ambulance District.

“Time is muscle, time is brain, time is heart,” he said.

The pinpoint location capabilities will also be helpful in more rural areas or on the county’s trail systems.

“Several times a year, we’re called out on places like the Katy Trail or the hiking areas,” Hollrah said. “And most people don’t know exactly where they’re at when they’re out on those. They go for a run, they go for a hike, and they could be anywhere between Point A and Point B.”

Hollrah says he’s most excited about potential future upgrades, including the ability for callers to send video to a dispatcher who could then pass it along to first responders.

“And down the road, the intention is to actually get the video or picture to the crews that are responding to the call, so we can actually see what we're getting into and prepare a little bit better and hopefully bring the right resources to make a difference,” he said.

The upgrade will take about 18 months and cost $11.3 million over a seven-year contract, Smith said. The first step is replacing physical equipment like data centers and dispatch consoles, which should be done by July. The software work will take about another year.

The cost of the upgrade is being shared by St. Charles County and the five municipalities it dispatches for, Smith said. Officials had hoped to get $7 million from the state, but Gov. Mike Parson vetoed the funding from the budget.

“Collectively, we all thought it was important enough that we decided that we would each one of us go back and find the funds to do this,” he said.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.