Bills call for statewide 911 infrastructure upgrade

911 dispatchers. (File)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Bills making their way through the state Legislature aim to utilize high-speed fiber optics to overhaul the 911 system in Michigan.

Supporters say it would help everyone from 911 callers to dispatchers to first responders.

If you have an emergency in Kent County, you have to pick up the phone and call 911. It’s one of the counties in West Michigan that doesn’t have text-to-911 capability, but that would change if the legislation is signed into law.

“We’re in society today that demands us to be able to handle text messages, in some cases pictures and even video, all related to an emergency incident,” Kent County Emergency Communications Center Director Matt Groesser said.

He said upgrading the state’s 911 infrastructure is critical.

“A picture tells a thousand words, so obviously there’s going to be a major improvement to the information that’s available,” Groesser said.

Walker Fire Chief Robert Walker says it’s critical for dispatchers to have as much information as possible as quickly as possible to relay to first responders answering a call.

“We rely on them heavily because it can make the difference of night and day. Someone’s life can depend on it,” Walker said.

Text-to-911 service is just one component of bills in the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate to improve 911 service.

The bills also call for replacing the old copper wire lines with a fiber optic system. A new, entirely computerized system would allow agencies to answer calls from another jurisdiction if needed.

“Today, we pay for the copper 911 infrastructure, which was put in decades ago,” Groesser said. “And it doesn’t allow for the system to heal itself should there be a cut in a line somewhere.”

Groesser said it would cost the state roughly $20 million annually to run the new system. So what’s the price tag for you? Currently, phone users pay 19 cents per device per month for 911 service in Michigan. If legislation passes, that would increase by 6 cents to 25 cents per device per month.

State Rep. Rob VerHeulen, R-Walker, says he’ll likely support the legislation.

“My experience over the years is when we’re talking police and fire equipment, the public has always been very supportive,” VerHeulen said. “We don’t want to put them at risk and we want to make sure that when they go on a call they have all the information they need, they have all the tools they need, they have all the training they need,”

The House bill on 911 infrastructure has been referred to the House Committee on Communications and Technology. A similar Senate bill was passed by the whole Senate in December and has been referred to the same House committee.

>>Online: SB 400 | HB 4651

Kent County officials hope that if the legislation gets passed by the legislature and signed into law, the changes to the system go into effect by the end of the year.