Atchison County residents will soon gain the ability to summon emergency help with a text message, in a new arrangement that confers various other benefits.
A 5-0 vote by city commissioners at Monday’s City of Atchison governing body meeting has authorized, via Resolution No. 3156, the city to partner with the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) along with the Atchison County government.
MARC currently serves a nine-county area around the Kansas City metro, including Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties in Kansas. The vote came after a presentation by Kim Pruett, Atchison County 911 director, and Wes Lanter, Atchison County Emergency Management director, following previous action by the Atchison County Commission to join MARC.
“Once they take over our phone equipment, they will supply all the software, the hardware,” Pruett said. “If anything breaks, they take care of it ... Nothing is going to change as far as the day-to-day operations in the 911 center. There are some benefits that we’ll get.”
To date, the city has operated the Atchison County Communications Board with the county to provide county-wide 911 services. Following Monday’s vote, MARC will take ownership of Atchison County telecommunication equipment, and integrate it into the MARC network.
“One of the big things is in having a backup facility,” Pruett said. “If something happens to our center, we can pack up, go to Leavenworth, sit down and dispatch. Radios, everything.”
According to Pruett and Lanter, as part of the MARC network, Atchison County constituents will gain the ability to send a text to the 911 service. Most importantly, this will allow people in need of help but who can’t speak out loud — on account of a disability, or, for example, during a home invasion — to contact a 911 operator. In this way, the county will catch up with much of the rest of Kansas.
In time, Pruett told commissioners, the MARC network will also offer first responders the ability track a caller or texter’s location directly with their cell phone; at present, cell towers must be used to triangulate someone’s approximate location. Before that happens, the MARC network will rely on the location of nearby wireless hotspots to provide more reliable data to the 911 center. This will not be as functional in rural areas, where wifi is often absent, but will represent an upgrade until the cell phone tracking function is ready.
Pruett told commissioners that funding for MARC will be transferred from the Atchison County 911 Fund. About $4,500 in overall increased costs is reflected in the plan for FY 2020, which Pruett justified based on the upgrades that integration into MARC will bring. Lanter emphasized that the impact on city and county finances will be minimal given the functions of the 911 fund. Pruett told Vice Mayor Allen Reavis that the fund contains $167,000 in reserves.
”So, no sales tax money, that’s what that means,” Lanter said. “The 911 fund comes from your cell phones, your landlines, you pay a certain amount with your bill, that’s where that comes from.”
Following adoption, plans were made to further discuss the regional 911 network at the planned joint city-county meeting set for Wednesday, May 29.