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Salt Lake County is about to get a single computer-aided dispatch system — one that may save lives by not wasting time shuffling frantic 911 callers to the appropriate agency when seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

The system won't be operational for nearly a year and a half, County Mayor Ben McAdams said Tuesday in introducing Alabama-based Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure as the winner of an extensive selection process to provide a $13 million dispatch system to handle 1 million 911 calls a year.

When it is, the mayor added, "We'll have faster, more accurate response times for residents. Money and lives will be saved."

Over the years, he and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder concurred, there have been heartbreaking stories in the news of a person dying because a 911 call went to the wrong dispatch center and initial responders didn't arrive until too late.

It's little wonder, they admitted. How would the general public know that one dispatch system was used by Salt Lake City, Sandy and Unified Police Department while the other — Valley Emergency Communications Center, or VECC — handled all the others, including Unified Fire Authority, West Valley City, Cottonwood Heights, Murray, Draper, South Jordan, South Salt Lake and West Jordan?

The companies that provided the software for those two systems — Versaterm and Spillman Technologies — were among four finalists for the combined system. But after reviews by a selection committee and 70 to 80 people from dispatchers to firefighters to techies, Hexagon was selected.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do," said Bill Campbell, a Hexagon senior vice president, citing the company's history installing hundreds of systems around the globe. "We'll work tirelessly on implementing this. We'll have the best and brightest [minds] on this."

Hexagon has more than 16,000 employees in 46 countries. Its website reported net sales last year of $3.4 billion.

Only an "amazing coming together" enabled public safety officials to pull off this consolidation, which for decades had seemed almost impossible to resolve, Winder said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Winder's aide when county funding kick-started the consolidation effort two years ago, said she was pleased the new system will be helpful to dispatchers.

"This is not an easy job. … It's the epitome of a very stressful job. It's more than a job, it's a calling," she said. "You make a difference every day, and this will only make your job easier."

No doubt, added Scott Freitag, who oversees Salt Lake City's emergency services center, citing the new system's ability to allow dispatchers to see everyone responding to a major police or fire incident, not just units from their own agency.

"Dispatchers won't have to transfer the 10,000 calls a month and experience the frustration of people having to answer the same questions over again," he said. "This makes their jobs easier so they can act as guardian angels for the first responders."

Much of the funding for the $13 million system will come from the Legislature. Salt Lake County is paying $1.4 million, federal Homeland Security officials are pitching in $177,000 and another $5 million has been rounded up through contributions and discounts, McAdams said.

In the next year and a half, new hardware will be installed in every machine used by dispatchers, firefighters, police officers and paramedics. Training also will be provided to those responders.