Next Generation 911: Help is on the Way

Pioneering system is designed to speed up emergency response times

By Dianna Troyer

A state-of-the-art dispatch center is used in Elko County. Photo courtesy of Westtel

Elko County’s new Next Generation 911 emergency calling system is a pioneer nationwide.

When NexGen911 went online in May 2020 at dispatch centers in Elko and West Wendover, it was the first system nationwide to rely on iCloud storage.

NextGen911 allows the county’s 911 system to integrate wireless GPS information with mapping data from Apple and Google.

“Since the system came online, there have been many calls where the GPS data provided through the NextGen911 system helped emergency responders get to callers faster than what was possible with the previous system,” says Lee Cabaniss, director of the Elko County Ambulance Service and current chairman of the Elko County Enhanced 911 Advisory Board.

With the new system, emergency services personnel can be sent to a specific location instead of being dispatched to a general location to search for the caller.

“Several law enforcement agencies also have been assisted by knowing where the caller was when a call was made,” Lee says, noting it has “made apprehension of suspects possible or aided an investigation.”

Dispatchers still ask callers questions, including phone number, location, and what resources are needed. Dispatchers also advise the caller what to do while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

Lee Cabaniss is director of the Elko County Ambulance Service and is chairman of the Enhanced 911 Advisory Board. Photos courtesy of Elko County

“It’s important for 911 callers to still provide this information and answer questions as the dispatcher gathers information that is important to responders,” Lee says.

Heather Neilson, lead dispatcher for the West Wendover Police Department, says she and other dispatchers are excited and thankful for the new system and the added safety it brings to our community.

“The system will enable us to process 911 calls directly from the caller without a transfer from an outside agency,” Heather says. “At this time, we are still getting our cellular 911 calls from surrounding area transfers. We’re waiting for the cellular providers to adjust our city boundaries so that we can get these calls. Once this happens, we’ll be able to get help to those in need much faster. This means the world to our dispatchers.”

Carlin Police Chief Kevin McKinney says the new system enhances officers’ and emergency responders’ efficiency and effectiveness.

“Time is crucial during an emergency,” Kevin says. “With the updated, enhanced 911 system, dispatchers can gather important information from callers without needing to ask time-consuming questions. The new system provides emergency responders with real-time information, such as GPS data on citizens in crisis, creating a quicker response and saving lives.”

Lee says an advantage of the cloud-based system is it eliminates the need for a significant capital outlay to buy servers or other equipment that would eventually become outdated.

The system’s annual maintenance cost of about $140,000 is paid for by surcharges on telephone and cellphone providers.

The project was funded by $432,000 in federal grants and $206,000 in donations from residents and businesses.

Five-Year Task Fulfilled

The NexGen911 system completes a mission launched five years ago when the county commissioners established the Enhanced 911 Advisory Board. The board was assigned the task of deciding whether to enhance the current 911 system or to advance to the Next Generation equipment and technology.

Elko County’s new 911 system relies on internet cloud storage, making it a pioneer in emergency dispatching nationwide. Photos courtesy of Elko County

“Our new system replaces a basic 911 system that was essentially 1960s’ technology,” Lee says.

The board members include a community member and representatives from the county’s law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical services agencies. Members write and update a five-year master plan that addresses current technology needs, future technology needs, projected costs, and future projects.

The board does not directly oversee the dispatch centers, Lee says.

“It assesses needs in those centers and works to provide technology and infrastructure upgrades to improve the 911 service,” he says.

The county’s Owyhee dispatch center on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation is pending.

“We hope their vendor can start installation this summer,” Lee says.

Upgrading the 911 system has been a team effort, Lee says. Local agencies and the community partnered with a project management firm, Winbourne Consulting, and a technology firm, NGA 911 LLC.

Lee says a lot of credit goes to Ben Reed and Annette Kerr. Ben was chairman of the advisory board before he retired in 2019 as Elko’s police chief. While she was the county’s emergency manager, Annette wrote federal grants to help fund the project.

Lee says he looks forward to future upgrades as phone carriers update information.

“We’ll eventually have additional features including texting to 911 and sending photos or video to 911,” he says. “The system is functioning well. We’re grateful to have it.”