Texting plans to proceed

LISBON — The Columbiana County 911 Advisory Committee decided this week to proceed with plans to add texting capability to 911.

The committee approved a resolution seeking approval from county commissioners to add a VPN texting connection to its 911 system through Comtech at a cost of $60,000 over three years. How soon texting capability would become operational depends on how quickly the phone carriers do what is needed on their end, which is anyone’s guess, according to 911 co-director Peggy Clark.

The issue was first raised at the committee’s November meeting, when Clark reported their new Next Generation 911 system needs to be hooked into a text control center (TCC) before it can begin receiving text messages. Co-director Brian Rutledge said obtaining TCC would cost $120,000 over three years, but they also could secure texting capability by going the VPN route through Comtech for $60,000.

VPN stands for virtual privacy network, a software service that allows you to access the internet safely by routing connections through a server.

General Dynamics, the company the committee contracted with to upgrade the county to NG911, said going with VPN would be fine, and TCC is only recommended for 911 service areas with populations of one million or more.

Clark said they may be able to receive some financial help through the state of Ohio, which recently received $4 million in federal funding for 911. She said the state is considering allowing local governments to apply for grants to cover 60 percent of the cost of a particular 911-related project. She suggested they go ahead with adding texting capability and apply for grant money when it becomes available.

One of the firefighters in attendance agreed. “The reality is if we wait for the state we might be waiting for 10 years,” he said.

Clark said the good thing about the VPN option is it will not require any additional equipment be installed at the five local police stations through which 911 calls are routed based on geography.

Rutledge said only 12 of Ohio’s 88 counties currently have 911 texting capability.

The texting would involve messages only, and not photographs. “I’m sure it’s coming. I Just don’t know anyone who’s doing that yet,” he said.