More efficient emergency dispatch unveiled yesterday to city residents

November 12, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In changes designed to make Baltimore emergency response efforts safer and more efficient, city officials unveiled yesterday their new state-of-the-art emergency communications system.

For the first time, 911 or 311 calls to fire and police departments, paramedics and the Department of Water and Power are being routed through one $60 million computer system and can automatically prompt response from all the agencies.

"This is one of the most sophisticated communications systems anywhere in the world," said Patricia A. Sturmon, a spokeswoman for Motorola, which designed the system. "You now have the capability to put Baltimore absolutely on the cutting edge of public safety."

The system began Nov. 2 after more than five years of work by hundreds of city officials and Motorola employees. It includes hundreds of computers -- as many as five or six assigned to a single emergency response supervisor -- that receive and transmit calls via nine antenna towers.

Located on the fourth floor of the police headquarters building downtown, the communications center is a large room filled with dozens of operators who receive up to 5,000 emergency calls a day. (Each went through weeks of training to make the transition.)

Improvements in communication should increase safety for workers and the public. In the past, fire or police crews doing rescue work in some basements and concrete buildings with poor reception often lost communication with operators, said Raymond Lehr, assistant chief of the Fire Department and project director of the new system.

Another change is that the system is digital, not the standard analog: The public no longer will have access to emergency communications via standard scanners.

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