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Nebraska looking at ways to expand 911 services

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska is looking at ways to expand its 911 services so dispatchers can gather more information, whether it's video footage of a crime in progress or a cellphone photo of a car crash.

The explosion of new technology is raising questions for lawmakers, who want to make sure that Nebraska's emergency network is ready to harness it.

Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue is pushing for a study that would examine how Nebraska is faring when it comes to adopting the new technology. Price will present his proposal Monday to the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

"We know we see this happening, there's a momentum behind these things," Price said. "What we're trying to do is be prudent, get in front of it, and leverage what we have."

The study was requested by several emergency dispatchers throughout the state. Dispatchers in the future may want to tap into cameras operated by the Nebraska Department of Roads, said Larry Lavelle, who serves as Sarpy County's 911 emergency management director. Or they may want to collect real-time information about a traffic crash, such as where a car was hit and whether the airbags deployed. Similar technology exists through private firms, such as OnStar, which then contact emergency officials.

"It may give us a better awareness of any kind of situation in progress," Lavelle said.

Lavelle said he's seen some Walgreens stores in the Omaha area that voluntarily post state emergency warnings on digital message boards.

"We really are seeing that this is an issue that has to be brought forward," he said.

Lavelle said state officials also want to make sure they're ready for 911 texting services that will arrive by next year at the latest. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon will launch the service in some parts of the United States this year, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The wireless carriers have agreed to make emergency texting available to more than 90 percent of U.S. cellphone users by May 2014.

The study will explore the costs and implications of the so-called next-generation 911. The Nebraska Public Service Commission would initiate the study and report back to lawmakers. The commission would pay for it through the state's Enhanced Wireless 911 fund, which comes from cellphone fees.

"In larger counties, we have certain capabilities, but in smaller counties it may not be there," Price said. "It's prudent to begin to move, and to make a roadmap."

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The bill is LB595

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