The Pryor Times

November 2, 2013

The history of 911 in Mayes County

Susan Wagoner
Staff Reporter

PRYOR, OK — Enhanced 911 has been around since the 1990s when the federal government set the system in place to assist first responders in an emergency situation. Enhanced dealt with landlines only and provided 911 dispatchers with a call back number and physical address of the caller.

When Mayes County began implementing Enhanced 911 in 2001, many residents received a change of address as the system wouldn’t accept route or box numbers.

The City of Pryor already had a 911 system through the Pryor Police Department. When the operation went county-wide, however, it was the Mayes Emergency Services Trust Authority that took on the dispatch duties.

“We were still located at the hospital then,” MESTA Director Rick Langkamp said.

Langkamp was named director of the county-wide ambulance service in 2003, getting only a few months on the job under his belt before the activation of the 911 system in September of the same year.

Since that time, MESTA has gone through tremendous change and growth. Headquarters is now located in the MidAmerica Industrial Park in a much larger, specially constructed building.

Initially, the 911 Center was located within the new building.

“We had several tornado close calls in those first years and finally, lightning struck the building and the mother board of the 911 center was destroyed,” Langkamp said. “It did about $90,000 worth of electrical damage.”

A decision was soon made to relocate the 911 center to a separate structure near the MESTA building.

“We got cost estimates and it was nearly a million dollars to build a building next door,” Langkamp.

Plan B was formulated and the result is an  F-5-certified safe room structure measuring 12 feet by 60 feet.

The 911 center was built by connecting five 12-foot by 12-foot concrete-walled safe rooms into one large structure. The cost was $35,000.

Another $35,000 was spent to complete the interior. After transferring all of the equipment, the total cost of the new facility, nicknamed “The Bunker,” was under $100,000.

With a solid foundation literally now in place, Langkamp and 911 Director Brandon Hawkins set to work to provide the center with state of the art capabilities.

Wireless 911 has been added to accomodate the vast increase in cell phone usage.

“Wireless works from a signal from the cell phone back to the cell tower which collects the data to give a location,” Langkamp said.

According to Langkamp, Phase One in Wireless 911 is the dispatcher being able to see what tower the signal comes from with a caller makes a 911 call.

Phase Two takes it a step further and shows the 911 dispatcher first the cell tower, then the specific location of the caller.

“The federal government made it a requirement that any cell phone manufactured 2004 and later would be Phase Two compliant or have a GPS chip,” Langkamp said. “Mayes County was one of the first counties in Oklahoma to become Phase Two compliant.”

Text messaging is the next step.

The software exists. Called NextGen, it is capable of receiving texts. The software was purchased last year for the 911 center to prepare for future technological advances.

“The phone companies along with new software have been tested around the U.S. for the past several years,” Langkamp said.

One issue is that there is no 10-digit number that is directly associated with a text, so the regular 911 systems could not receive a text.

Why text? Langkamp said in the wake of the Columbine school shootings, one concern was that kids were not able to make calls for fear of revealing their location to the shooters.

“If you or a child are hiding from an assailant, you can text without giving away your location,” he said. The software will also accomodate photos or short videos.

Future plans are to increase the service at the 911 center to a 10 Mb service.

“This would allow enough internet bandwidth and speed to do these futuristic things,” Langkamp said.

MESTA contracts with the Mayes County Commissioners to be the provider of 911 service to the county. Though Langkamp oversees MESTA’s involvement with the 911 center, day-to-day operations are the responsibility of Hawkins.

“I’m still just a pencil pusher,” Langkamp said. “I try to keep the political heat off of him so he can keep focus.”

County Commis-

sioner Ryan Ball said the Mayes County center often serves as a model to other counties researching the marriage of 911 and emergency medical services.

The City of Pryor still maintains the 911 center for the community, but all other county calls and wireless county-wide are routed through the 911 center at MESTA. The two serve as emergency backups for each other.

“We have as good a system as you can get without having every agency dispatch under the same roof,” Langkamp said, adding that sometimes technology is easier to achieve in areas with smaller population and demand.

“Our resources like MAIP, Google and GRDA have made it possible for Mayes County to see the future earlier than some of our neighboring counties,” he said.