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County plans for mass calling system

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Grant money for cellular 911 services will help St. Croix County establish a mass notification system and buy a program to update computerized maps.

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Four years ago the Wisconsin Legislature authorized the Public Service Commission to begin collecting a monthly fee from cell phone users. The money was distributed to counties and wireless phone providers to implement systems that help dispatch centers locate cell phone users who call for help.

As of September, the PSC "realized it has a lot of money left," reported Emergency Communications Director Casey Swetlik last week.

He said the county, which already has gotten nearly $200,000 in grant money, is now eligible for more.

Swetlik said he went through "volumes and volumes" of invoices related to costs for such things as headsets and courtroom cameras and expects to recoup $21,949 of those costs from the PSC grant.

There are no strings attached to the money, which the county can spend anywhere, Swetlik said.

He suggested using $18,450 to help pay for a 20-port mass notification system and $3,500 to help buy a new 911 mapping system.

The mass notification program can send out thousands of recorded phone messages in a short time, said Swetlik. The notification calls could involve a missing child, a crime alert for a particular neighborhood, a gas leak or an evacuation notice.

The quote for the CityWatch system and AT&T database is $39,950, but the Health and Human Services Department has $15,000 for the system in its 2008 budget and the Emergency Management Department has $6,500 available.

Swetlik told Finance Committee members he doesn't know how much it will cost to manage the system. He said expenses will include training for dispatchers and imputing telephone numbers for the county's fire and police departments.

Supervisor John Borup, who serves on both panels, said the Public Protection Committee and the Emergency Management and Communications Committee both support the proposal.

The Finance Committee approved the purchase of the mass notification system as well as spending the remaining $3,500 on new maps.

The Communications Center's 911 mapping system was acquired in 2006 as part of its new phone system, but the parent company says the map is a "dead product" and attempts at updating the maps fail, said Swetlik.

He said the current system has never been compatible with aerial photography and "ends at the St. Croix County border," creating problems when other counties are involved in an incident.

Swetlik said Bullberry, the company that supplies mapping to Pierce and Barron counties, can provide mapping for $36,400. Half that cost will be paid by the PSC grant.

Bullberry pledges 10-year support of its product and will provide a map that can be updated on demand and has extended boundaries, said Swetlik.

He said his department's 2008 budget can cover the $14,700 not paid by grant money.

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