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New 911 System Automates Texas EMS Dispatches

Starting today, 911 calls that result in an emergency medical services response will be dispatched by a computer.

The new $1 million system, which will interact with a $16 million countywide Computer Automated Dispatch slated to roll out later this year, has been in the works for eight years, said Deputy Chief Rodney Hitzfelder with the San Antonio Fire Department.

Hitzfelder said 911 operators will enter a caller's information into the system, and then a computerized voice will alert the appropriate firefighters. Fire calls will be dispatched automatically starting in mid-June.

Although automated systems are being used in cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, San Antonio's is unique in that it will alert the radios of the firefighters who should respond, in addition to notifying companies through an LED message board in each of the city's 50 fire stations.

"The more accurate the information our firefighters and paramedics receive, the better they're able to respond and take appropriate action when they get there," Hitzfelder said.

No jobs will be lost as a result of the new system, he said, and dispatchers will be monitoring specific channels and communicating with officials during incidents.

The automated system, created by U.S. Digital Design, essentially will be free for taxpayers, thanks to a $1.8 million out-of-court settlement paid by Interspiro Inc. and Harsco Corp., whom the city sued after a number of the companies' breathing devices failed.

Firefighters have been testing the system for a couple of weeks, Hitzfelder said, and detected some bugs that needed to be worked out, including the pace that calls are dispatched and the pronunciation of certain street names.

"We wouldn't want to get 'Alamo' wrong here in the Alamo City," he said, adding that the computer's pronunciation of "Alamo Plaza" was initially incorrect. "It can make a difference when we're trying to get there as quickly as possible."



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