911 System Dialed In

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, January 30, 2014

CUMBERLAND — The box sits quietly at the Sheriff’s office. Three feet by five feet by five feet, through it flows the emergencies of Cumberland County. Whether it’s about an intruder, heart attack, car accident or brush fire, the majority of 911 calls in Cumberland County are routed through that box, which also adds the location of the caller, and sends it to the dispatcher.

But, the equipment is old. So old that in a few months the County would no longer be able to buy new parts to repair it, according to County Administrator and Attorney Vivian Giles.

At this time last year, in preparation for the County budget, former Director of Information Technology Aaron Hickman had raised his concerns regarding the County’s 911 system. At that time, he reported “almost on a monthly basis, I’m actually soldering and de-soldering and repairing. We’re kind of hanging on…”

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Replacement of the system is on the current fiscal year’s Capital Improvements Program, but was unfunded, like the majority of other items in the program. However, even though there are no local funds for the project, it is still being replaced. The County was awarded a $150,000 grant from the state of Virginia, applied for by Hickman.

During their January meeting, the Cumberland Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a contract with CenturyLink to provide not only the needed equipment and installation, but also a five-year maintenance contract. The total contract will be covered by the grant.

The County was in touch with companies that provide the equipment over the last few months, Giles told the board during their meeting. Because it is so specialized, there are few options, she explained, stating that the County received two bids for the project.

CenturyLink is the County’s current provider and their proposed contract was significantly less than the second bidder, Carousel Industries. Giles recommended the County choose CenturyLink.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” said Supervisor Parker Wheeler, District Five, after asking a few questions. He moved to approve the CenturyLink contract.

During the meeting, current Information Technology Director Shawn Howard explained that the equipment was overdue for replacement. Installed ten years ago, it would soon no longer be able to communicate with other 911 equipment. Other area localities have already updated their equipment with the exception of Cumberland and Lunenburg, according to Howard.

Although the call taking system will soon be on more stable footing, once the new equipment is installed, the County isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to their enhanced 911 system.

The voice recorder and mapping components of the system are due for an upgrade. Howard hopes to apply for a grant and be awarded funds to replace them by fiscal year 2016.