Last week, I visited the Spring Valley Police Department to get a firsthand look at the county’s new 911 system. The state-of-the-art “Next Generation 911” software is now fully operational for callers in Haverstraw, Orangetown, Ramapo, Stony Point, Suffern and Spring Valley. Upgrades in Clarkstown, which last re-vamped its 911 dispatch center in 2008, are expected in 2017.
Until recently, most Rockland County police departments were answering 911 calls with equipment installed in 1993. For the 23 years, local dispatchers gathered information about a caller’s emergency, phone number and address and relayed the information to police officers, firefighters or paramedics. The old system was rudimentary by today’s standards, but soldiered on while growing increasingly unreliable with age. (The old system actually exceeded the manufacturers “useful life range” by two years.)
The Next Generation system includes more caller information: name, location and phone number, plus GPS coordinates to pinpoint the exact location of cell phone users. With the click of a mouse, dispatchers can call for a tow truck, poison control or the Language Line, a 24-hour phone service provides language interpretation in more than 200 languages. Crucially, dispatchers can now re-dial dropped 911 calls and digitally record calls for immediate playback to responding officers.
In 2008, a $3 million capital project was approved to upgrade these so-called Public Safety Answering Points. But, the bulk of the project was quickly stalled due to the county’s financial problems. When I took office in January 2014, I made an immediate decision to revive it. Bids were evaluated, vendors were interviewed and a contract was negotiated. In April 2015, the deal was signed with Frontier Communications to upgrade the 911 equipment and train all personnel at six police departments.
We are financing the project through the 911 surcharge fees collected annually and state funding, including a $227,000 grant received this month from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
With 35 years in law enforcement and security, I fully understand that most people get one shot at calling for help in a crisis. I know what it’s like to have the line go dead. I know what it’s like to wonder if my call for assistance was received. Despite of our critical fiscal woes, the decision was made early in my administration was to find a way to make sure our residents won’t have to wonder. This new system ensures that one shot – guaranteed. The residents of Rockland County deserve to know that police, fire, paramedics will arrive as soon as possible.
Our first responders have some of the toughest and most dangerous jobs in America. They depend upon their extensive training, best judgment and modern equipment to make us all safe and proud. In addition to supporting our residents, this new 911 system shows that we care about their safety and their engagement with our citizens. If we are to succeed as a county, we must provide the best tools to our police, fire and medical personnel. This “extreme makeover” of the county’s 911 system furthers this goal and does so without requiring additional taxpayer dollars.
As your county executive, I am committed to your safety, fiscal responsibility and quality of life because I want Rockland County to continue to be the best place to live, work and raise a family.