ST. CHARLES COUNTY – A new and improved 911 service is set to make its way to the St. Charles County area, benefiting cities such as Lake Saint Louis, O’Fallon, St. Charles, St. Peters, and Wentzville.
The existing phone system was originally designed for landlines but adapted for wireless calls. However, it still faces delays when locating wireless callers due to outdated technology.
The new system promises the following advantages for callers:
- It will allow 911 to receive callers’ location data directly from their wireless devices.
- Calls will be directed to the appropriate dispatcher based on the caller’s exact physical location, rather than relying on cell tower data or triangulation from multiple towers.
- Improved accuracy in routing will reduce the need for transferring calls between dispatch agencies, resulting in quicker response times from call placement to dispatch assistance.
In the future, the system will provide dispatchers with information about the elevation of the caller, which could help in situations like building fires. The new 911 system will also offer a feature that allows callers to send photos or videos from the scene of an emergency.
This upgraded system will cost about $12 million, which will be distributed over the next seven years to cover new hardware, software, and 911 call routing. The system will be gradually rolled out in phases over the next 18 months. The funding for this initiative will be shared between the County and the cities of Lake Saint Louis, O’Fallon, St. Charles, St. Peters, and Wentzville, each of which serves as a primary answering point for 911 calls.
To finance the new system, contributions will come from both the county and the municipalities responsible for answering 911 calls. The county’s capital improvement sales tax will cover approximately 55 percent of the cost, with the remaining funds provided by the five municipalities.
St. Charles County, the primary funding source for 911 services is a tax on landlines, generating less than $250,000 annually in a county with a population of 419,000. For perspective, two decades ago, before cell phones, the same tax generated $571,000.
More than 118,000 calls have been placed to 911 in St. Charles County this year through October. 98.7 percent of these calls were answered within 10 seconds, with an average answer time of just 3.5 seconds.
In response to staff shortages, St. Charles County decided to hire contract 911 dispatchers temporarily during late summer. Some of these temporary staff members have since become permanent members of the county’s workforce.