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Budget Measure Would Fund Upgrade Of 911 Service

Funding Would Support Creation Of Emergency Services Internet Network

Kelley McCall/AP Photo

People in Wisconsin may soon be able to contact 911 via text under a budget bill motion that was unanimously approved by the Joint Committee on Finance. The state would provide $6.7 million to fund development of an emergency services internet network to implement Next Generation 911.

Douglas County Emergency Management Director Keith Kesler said the money would bring the emergency number system into the digital age.

“It will connect all the 911 systems together in the state,” he said. “It will be a system capable of delivering text messages, probably video — just about anything people can send us.”

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Kesler said the state’s 911 centers currently operate on an outdated copper wire network.

“Right now, we have people who dial 911 and we ask them for information concerning a motor vehicle accident or whatever and they say, ‘We’ll send you a picture.’ Well, we can’t receive that picture,” Kesler said. “In the future, we should be able to do that.”

Jim Palmer, executive director with the Wisconsin Police Professional Association, said Next Gen 911 could improve information-sharing among first responders and response times.

“We’ve evolved into a very wireless, mobile society. That’s how people communicate,” he said. “Anything we can do to provide first responders with more information about these situations they’re confronting, whether it’s traffic accidents or active shooter situations or any kind of emergency, public safety will stand to benefit significantly.”

Palmer noted that the emergency services network may particularly impact rural areas of northern Wisconsin that tend to lack the kind of communication infrastructure available in urban areas.

“It really will be a benefit to rural areas to achieve some minimum standards that simply don’t exist to the extent that they really can throughout the state,” Palmer said.

The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs would solicit bids to contract for creation, operation and maintenance of the emergency services internet network. Funding would be awarded next year if approved by the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker.

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