Homeland Security and Public Safety

Collaboration Moves Utah Toward Next-Gen 911

The Greater Wasatch Multi-Node Project is the first IP-capable 911 call delivery system in Utah.

911 dispatcher takes calls
A 911 dispatcher takes calls for the Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by David Kidd

When the technology in several of Utah’s 911 centers was nearing obsolescence simultaneously, three of the state’s public safety directors decided to get creative.

“We thought, why not work together?” said Tina Scarlet, executive director of the Weber County, Utah, Emergency Services District. “Why not implement a shared model that various public safety answering points could use and that would be more efficient?”

In November 2011, Scarlet and two others — former Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) Executive Director William Harry and Utah Department of Public Safety Dispatch Center Manager Chris Rueckert — submitted a request for information for a multi-node, IP-based 911 call-handling solution.

“We wanted a system with advanced call-routing capabilities that could give us greater efficiencies and ultimately cost less than our various on-premise solutions,” Scarlet said. “The upgrade to an Internet-based system would also allow us to spread 911 calls around so that no one center had to put off a call when it was too busy.”

Today, the Greater Wasatch Multi-Node Project is the first IP-capable 911 call delivery system in Utah.

Multi-Node Advantages

Once the trio decided to explore the new strategy, they compared their current vendor’s solution to alternatives offered by Intrado and CenturyLink. Both companies offered key features they desired, including an emergency service number-based ESInet for all 911 wireline and wireless call handling and routing. 

“We decided on the Intrado solution because it would allow both servers to be up and operational at the same time,” said Kevin Rose, statewide interoperability coordinator for the Utah Department of Technology Services. “Redundancy was paramount.”

The IP-based Intrado VIPER call processing equipment provides quadruple redundancy at VECC and Weber County, as well as a common database for call routing and mapping systems that displays the caller’s location.

In January 2013, VECC, Weber Area 911 and the Utah Department of Public Safety/Salt Lake Communications Center went live on the new ESInet and the Greater Wasatch Multi-Node Project was officially launched.

“About that time, several of the other public safety answering points (PSAPs) became intrigued about the direction this was going,” said Mark Whetsel, technical services manager at VECC.

The original three partners realized that the new system would allow them to host much of the new technology at two centers — VECC and Weber Area Dispatch — and give other centers that got smaller upgrades access to the full system via the Internet. That would allow them to combine resources and share the cost of fully upgrading the two centers instead of spending the same amount of money on all of them, Rose said.

“As we heard of other agencies getting ready to switch out their equipment, we asked if they wanted to join. We liked the fact that it reduced costs, but it was also about the ability to back each other up,” Scarlet said. “We are all large entities, and with the capabilities of the system and the way we can have the roaming login, we felt it would be a good fit to have others join in. Before we knew it we were adding additional members.”

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer

Justine Brown is a veteran journalist who specializes in technology and education. Email her at justinebrown@comcast.net.