April 16, 2009 – Residents on St. John and St. Thomas should see a marked improvement in emergency response when the territory's new 911 system comes on line Aug. 27.
St. Croix's 911 system is slated to be up and running June 25.
"We want to raise the bar," John George, director of the territory's Bureau of Information Technology, said Thursday at a public meeting on the system.
The meeting, held at St. Ursula's Multipurpose Center, drew three people in addition to the six people who were there to assist George. Of the three, one was Winifred Powell, who heads the V.I. Fire Service on St. John. The second was Linda Bechstein of St. John's Community Integration Team. The third was a reporter.
St. John will be part of the St. Thomas system, with emergency calls handled by a new dispatch center now under construction in the former E.D. Plumbing building near Cyril E. King Airport.
St. John's part of the system is dependent on two communication towers that will be erected by June 1. George said the one installed on the island's East End will actually be a 25-foot pole because the location is high enough that a tower won't be necessary. A 60-foot tower will be installed at Estate Bellevue. The St. John system will utilize a V.I. National Park tower at Mamey Peak as well as towers on St. Thomas. A tower at Benner Hill on St. Thomas will be used to cover the Cruz Bay area.
"These towers are the glue that brings the system together," George said.
St. John's existing 911 system, which also is tied to the St. Thomas system, suffers from dead zones. Additionally, Powell said, there is confusion among places on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John that have similar names. She said that, for example, she's sent fire trucks out to respond to a fire in Contant only to discover that it was Contant, St. Thomas.
The new 911 system will operate with a Geospatial Information System that allows the dispatcher to locate where the emergency call originates, George said. It will also allow the dispatcher to track where the emergency vehicle is located as it makes its way to the emergency.
Additionally, George said that people with scanners will not be able to hear emergency dispatches made with the new 911 system. This will prevent "bad guys" from hearing that the police are on their way.
In response to a question from Bechstein, George said that the dispatchers will be part of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency system. Currently the Police Department operates the dispatch system for Police, the Fire Service and the Emergency Medical Service.
The dispatchers will be trained professionals. George said dispatchers will be available who speak English, Spanish and Creole.
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