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Ohio dispatching shifts to N911

$46 million in state funding will give dispatchers across the state more accurate caller location information


By Hannah Drown

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio’s 911 system is about to be brought into the 21st century, joining a growing number of states across the country that have replaced decades-old emergency response systems with modern technology.

The statewide shift to the internet-based Next Generation 911 (NG911) program will create a centralized data system that will provide dispatchers with more accurate caller location information, additional communication avenues and other new features.

It all works together to reduce response time – by seconds or even minutes.

[RELATED: National 911 Program publishes resource on NG911 transition for dispatchers]

“It doesn’t take much imagination to think of any number of emergencies in which that amount of time makes a big difference,” said Angie Canepa, deputy director of first responder communications initiatives within Ohio’s 911 office. “This is going to save lives.”

One of the most important upgrades, according to Canepa, is the integration of precise and robust geo-tracking data.

Currently, when a call comes in from a cellphone, dispatchers receive location information from either the closest cell tower or, in some cases, from the phone itself. But that data is often inaccurate.

The NG911 system will allow dispatchers to see the caller’s exact location on a map, and even which floor they are on in a multi-story building.

And in instances when the caller is moving, the program will track the vehicle’s route.

“I can call for a pizza on my cellphone and they know exactly where I am, but emergency service is pretty far behind right now,” said Brandy Carney, director of public safety and justice services for Cuyahoga County. “That’s a big concern for emergency response personnel. For something like 911, we should have accurate information. There’s no question about that.”

The technology behind NG911 also gives dispatchers and callers new ways to communicate, expanding beyond voice communication to allow details to be shared through text, photo and video.

[RELATED: Report released on nationwide transition to NG911]

Canepa said the upgraded location data should help to ensure calls are routed to the correct emergency response center. But in situations where the caller needs to be transferred, all of those details will transition seamlessly to the next dispatcher without the caller having to start their story over again.

Bringing NG911 to Ohio

The statewide initiative will be supported by $46 million in funding from the state’s 2024-2025 operating budget, as well as a 15-cent increase to the existing cellphone surcharge fee, raising it to 40 cents per month. The increase began in January and is projected to go through September 2025.

The funding will help the state build the system and help individual counties and jurisdictions pay for new hardware and software, as well as installation costs.

Ohio’s 911 program office has been charged with coordinating the transition, serving as a point of contact between local, state, regional and federal safety officials, and overseeing a 10-county pilot program before the larger statewide push.

The pilot program will test the system itself and ensure it runs smoothly before adding additional counties. Morgan, Monroe, Columbiana, Carroll, Harrison and Union counties are all already enrolled in the pilot, with four additional counties joining soon.

Canepa said that their goal is to have the 120-day pilot program complete and the system certified by the end of the year. Then, they can open NG911 to all counties across the state within five years.

The department has been collecting forms from county administrators who have expressed interest in joining the program. So far, more than two-thirds of Ohio’s 88 counties have committed to participating.

After county officials file their form, the state team will review what technology and infrastructure they have currently. That information will help guide what needs to be done to move the county over to NG911.

Officials in Cuyahoga County have started some of the legwork that will need to be done ahead of moving over to the NG911 system, such as creating the mapping data that dispatchers will use to access caller information.

Each county and local jurisdiction will need to provide this data before it can be added into the state’s NG911 system. That data is then logged in layers, giving dispatchers access to numerous types of information that can be updated and expanded over time.

Cuyahoga County’s geographical information systems department is working on that task currently. Starting with five pilot jurisdictions, they will build out information sets for all 59 jurisdictions within the county, and continue to add additional layers of data even after the new system launches.

“This is huge for the industry and we’re really excited that it’s coming,” Carney said. “The amount of information, the speed of the technology and the capabilities it can provide are going to make a real difference.”

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