Technology will allow residents to text 911

EBENSBURG – There are times when dialing 911 isn’t an option.

Imagine being alone and scared, locked in a bedroom closet during a nighttime home break-in and incapable of calling for help.

But by year’s end, new technology upgrades will change that. It will allow for texting 911 centers.

Robbin Melnyk, deputy director of the Cambria County Emergency Management Agency, said regional emergency management officials realized they could upgrade equipment and implement new technologies if they worked together.

Commissioner Mark Wissinger said county leaders also saw the potential for cost savings and technological improvements.

“Technology has changed so rapidly that it’s hard to keep pace with where we need to be,” he said.

So, over the next several months, Cambria will be working with 10 other counties – Indiana, Somerset, Westmoreland, Greene, Venango, Mercer, Lawrence, Armstrong, Allegheny and Butler – to form the Southwestern Pennsylvania Emergency Response Group.

Commissioners approved over $500,000 in contracts on Thursday to help pay for equipment and product costs over the next five years for the upgraded 11-county 911 network, to be hosted in Westmoreland County.

They also approved two contracts, worth about $50,000, with the State College-based Missions Critical Partners Inc. to set up network lines and other equipment so the new system can be implemented in the coming months.

New technology will provide residents the option of sending texts for help or to provide accident damage or injury photos to emergency personnel.

Also, Melnyk said, if there was ever a service disruption at the county’s center, and it couldn’t be used, employees could drive to centers in any of the other 10 counties, log on and take Cambria County emergency calls.

Officials also are working to make changes to the fees paid to fund emergency centers.

Currently, every Cambria County landline user pays a $1.25 monthly fee, along with a $1 monthly fee for wireless devices, to fund emergency operations. But the law governing those wireless fees expires at the end of June.

Melnyk said directors are lobbying for a set $1.75 fee for all devices that can be used to dial 911 to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

Regionalization is encouraged by the state emergency management agency, Melnyk said, because it will end up saving millions of dollars with fewer switches and less equipment.

Work is set to begin this summer.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.