Indiana leaders explore 911 communications

May 3—GOSHEN — As the only state treasurer in the United States who also serves as board chair of his state's 911 board, Daniel Elliott's history growing up in rural Indiana and his technology background gives him a unique understanding of some of the problems facing call centers.

On Friday, he and state Rep. Joanna King toured the Elkhart County 911 Call Center to ask dispatchers about the struggles they faced in ensuring the safety of people in Elkhart County.

Elliott said his father was a firefighter and his wife sits on the board of their hometown's volunteer fire board, and his history in the technology sector converges well when it comes to 911 and emergency services.

"It's really, really neat how technology has become such an important part of 911," he said. "Let's say you're someone who speaks a foreign language and you get in a car accident. We'll you're not going to be thinking 'I need to speak in English.'

"You're going to start speaking in your native language because you're panicked, you're stressed, and the technology we now have will listen to your voice and hear what language you're speaking and then transfer you to a 911 dispatcher at a national office that speaks your native language. You start to think about how that technology has really opened up the ability to save lives, do things faster."

Elliott said one of the things he's most excited about is technology that shows where a police officer is in case of emergency. They also, in the last year, did a cyber security assessment for 911 centers across the state.

King explained that as the vice chair of Veterans & Public Safety, legislation about 911 centers often goes through her committee and it's beneficial for her to experience what dispatch deals with.

"There's so much technology available, we just have to figure out the right way to put it together," King said.

Elliott said one of the big ideas they're exploring across the state is interoperability."

"There might be an accident and the closest available public safety unit is in Elkhart County, but it happened in LaGrange County," Elliott said. "Right now it has to go through LaGrange County and they'll send their people because they're not aware that there's somebody right across the line. We're looking at solutions to solve that problem because technology is now at the point where we can say 'Hey, wait. There's a unit two miles away, send them over.'"

Dead zones for certain reasons are also a problem across the state. Today, Executive Director of Statewide 911 Board Jeff Schemmer said 85% of intake is cellular-based.

"Every time technology comes out with something new it's 'How come we didn't plan for this before?' — nobody really did, and we spend a lot of time trying to anticipate," Schemmer said. "Cell phones come out, OnStar ... we go, how do we get it to connect to 911? Text was probably the biggest one.'"

Texts, within the last year, have become able to be translated into 150 languages for dispatchers to read.

"In 37 years of being in 911, the cellphone has been the biggest positive and the biggest negative for 911," Schemmer said. "Positive because now you don't have to wait until you get home or get to a payphone to report an emergency, but the downside of it is it brought so many technological advances like being able to call. Somebody is driving down I-65 from Kentucky. They have no idea where they're at when they dial 911, so when something like that comes up we go 'This is great, but what problems do we have to solve before we implement it?'"

Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at or at 574-538-2065.