New 911 system to make cell phone calls easier to find

By Helena Rodriguez

A new 911 system at the Portales Police Department will make it easier for dispatchers to get information on cell phone calls and then share that information with responding officers much faster.
An Enhanced 911 System is in the process of arriving at the Roosevelt County Law Enforcement Complex in bits and pieces. Portales Police Captain, Lonnie Berry, said the bulk of the $300,000 system is expected to arrive this summer and will be installed during the second week of July.
A $450,000 grant is being used to pay for the system with money the state collects from telephone companies to keep the emergency telephone system updated.
People calling the new 911 computerized system will not notice any difference in service. For dispatchers on the other end, however, it will have a major impact, particularly when they get emergency calls from cell phones, which currently can be hard to track.
Eva McAfoos has been a police dispatcher for 22 years, with seven of those years on the Portales Police Department. She said there has been a huge increase in cell phone calls in recent years and she can’t wait to get the new Enhanced 911 System.
“When a cell phone call comes in, we have no idea where it’s coming from,” McAfoos said. “With the new system, we will be able to trace it within 15 yards of where a person is calling from. A lot of people, when they are driving, they have no idea where they are, no idea what mile marker they are at or what road they are on and that has delayed response time.
“It’s used to be that when there was a major accident on a country road, people would go to a house to call us. Now with cell phones, we’re getting around 20-40 calls reporting one accident and that can really bog you down.”
Berry said the new system will help pinpoint locations with grids that will provide more details of where the call is coming from, with the help of cell phone towers. “It will also tell us who is calling in and it will give us some information about the caller as well,” he said.
Berry noted that about $100,000 of the grant money is being used to also install a mapping system as well as other radio equipment. “The current 911 system is about 12 years old and occasionally has problems due to weather. We’re going to kind of redo everything at once,” Berry said.
According to Berry, other cities have had success with the Enhanced 911 System by Motorola. The new computerized system will not affect the number of police dispatchers. Berry noted that dispatchers will still be needed to answer radios and telephones.
The seven police dispatchers will undergo three days of training in Clovis when the new system is installed.