I-COM enters next generation

Thanks to a hefty chunk of state change, I-COM is setting the trend for 911 telephone technology.

A new $420,000 Internet Protocol-based phone system, funded completely by the state, will be installed by the end of May or early June, replacing an antiquated system that has earned its stripes.

“The phone system we have now is an older model that’s been in place for 10 years,” said I-COM Director Tom Shaughnessy. “So this allows us to move with technology.”

“It allows us to grow with the changes of 911,” added I-COM Operations Supervisor Alice Johnson.

Island County is only the second county in the state phasing in the next generation of 911. Personnel from Qwest toured the I-COM facility last Wednesday to survey the building where they will be making what some would call technological history.

“They’re really excited about it,” Shaughnessy said. “They’re from Seattle and from Bellingham and this will be the first IP-based system that they’ve been able to work on. They’ve gone to school and had their training, but this will be the first system that’s hands-on for them.”

As the technology increases, the capabilities of the new system are seemingly endless. Although some features are not available now, they will be in the near future.

“It has a new mapping system associated with it that’s integrated into the phone,” Shaughnessy said. “When looking into the field use, in the future it will allow us to receive text messaging for a 911 call, and pictures from all those cell phones out there. That’s the next generation side of it.”

The IP system will be much more user friendly for the dispatchers, automatically carrying out features that employees must manually handle with the current system.

Another feature is the ability to locate cellular callers.

“When there’s an auto accident, say at Deception Pass, and we have a group of five, six, seven callers, we’ll be able to see on the map where the calls are coming from, so if there’s another call coming in from South Whidbey for instance, we can choose,” said Shaughnessy. “This allows us to prioritize.”

Having the Qwest crew readily available will be crucial in the training as well as maintenance issues.

“They’ll be doing the on-site training,” the I-COM director said. “And then of course their techs are available to us if we need them 24/7.”

Shaughnessy said that as voice-over Internet Protocol phone systems are becoming more popular in residences, people need to make sure their respective systems allow for traditional 911 callouts.

“People need to understand before they go into the voice-over IP with some of those current carriers out there, they need to make sure the enhanced 911 system works the way they’re being told,” he said. “They need to be sure.”

Island County can rest assured that I-COM is positioning itself to be a model for other counties in their technological upgrades.

“We’re one of the fortunate ones,” Shaughnessy said. “A lot of counties are going to follow suit.”

The Oak Harbor facility takes all calls in the county.

“We are the frontline as far as first responders go,” the director said. “We get the initial call. We conduct the interview, make the determination and dispatch accordingly.”

I-COM receives an average of 36,000 911 calls per year that actually turn into events. And an average of 12,000 non-event calls per month.

“It leads to a lot more work and a lot more volume than meets the eye,” Shaughnessy said. “And it’s the same three, four, five individuals that I have in there doing it all. When we’re fully staffed, we have 19 dispatchers, including the supervisor.”

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