Beaufort County is close to launching a "next-generation" 911 system that will let residents report crimes and other emergencies via text message.
The new system, which is in the early stages of development, also will give dispatchers the ability to receive residents' smartphone photos and videos and then transmit those to first responders.
The upgrades will add new capabilities to the county's existing E-911 network that already shows dispatchers the caller's phone number and location.
"Our generation today is all about smartphones," David Zeoli, deputy director of the county's Emergency Management Department, said Tuesday. "The 911 system is just keeping up with that technology."
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The new network has applications for people with disabilities, or could be used in situations where a phone call is difficult or impossible.
"You could have the individual out there ... who might not be able to talk in an emergency; they can text us," Zeoli said. "Or, you could have someone who might not be able to describe something very well, they can send a photo or video."
The phone number residents would text or send photos and video to is not yet known.
The county is considering awarding a 10-year contract with Hargray Communications for fiber-optic services that would become the backbone of the new system. The contract would cost $19,572 a month over the next decade.
The county's Finance Committee endorsed the contract Monday. County Council could take up the issue as soon as next Monday.
Much of the funding for the fiber-optic services and electronic equipment needed to run the new network would come from a state fund of monthly 911 surcharges on customers' phone bills.
County spokeswoman Joy Nelson said no county funds will be used for the upgrades.
Zeoli said the county is still seeking state approval to move ahead with the new network. That decision could come as soon as this week.
If all goes well, he said, the new network could be online by the end of the year.
Check back with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for updates to the story, and follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.