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Saturday, December 8, 2007

(Photo)
Jim Riney, an assistant tech for AT&T, puts some finishing touches on the city's new VOIP phone system
(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
Phone system will provide citizens with better access to city

SIKESTON -- New phones for the city means better service for you.

The changeover to the new Voice-Over-Internet Protocol phone system was completed Friday, according to Drew Juden, director of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.

"They're up and running," Juden said. "We're still working out a few bugs and glitches. As people start using them there's always a few issues to work out."

With a state-of-the-art message system and call routing, the new phone system will provide citizens with better access to DPS and city personnel, according to Juden.

Before the new system, a citizen trying to reach a specific officer would call dispatch who would write a note by hand and stick it in their mailbox.

"It may then take a while for that officer to get to that note," Juden said.

Messages are now sent to a voicemail box which the officer can check not only at the office but also from home. "They have nearly instant access to their voicemail and messaging," Juden said.

Sgt. Jim McMillen, public information officer for DPS, said phone messages are sent directly to the voicemail box as a .wav sound file so messages are heard directly by the intended recipient. "This reduces the chance of a misunderstanding that sometimes arises when someone else has taken the message for you," he said.

The new VOIP phone system also has features that will significantly reduce busy signals and unanswered calls.

For internal communications, "we can actually call phone to phone or station to station and we don't tie up any outbound telephone lines," Juden said.

Additionally, when incoming calls are transferred to an extension, the original line is immediately freed up. While there is still the possibility of a busy signal, "it's going to be a lot less frequent," said Grace Roberts, administrative assistant to Juden. "It's going to be pretty rare."

In those cases where a DPS facility or office is called and no one is near the phone to hear it ring, callers will no longer get an endlessly ringing phone.

Calls to any DPS office or facility will be routed to administrative phones in Headquarters if not answered after a number of rings. If no one picks up in administration, the call is then automatically routed to dispatching where there is always someone available to answer. "And it's a live person, not an automated attendant," Juden said.

The VOIP system also has many other features that can be implemented later such as radio communication using any phone extension.

"We continue to make every effort to find new ways to improve our community," McMillen said. "This system will no doubt benefit everyone we serve on a day-to-day basis."

The new phone system is only the first step in a series of improvements and upgrades with a total cost of $853,121 that Juden said will take until next spring to complete.

"This is a multiphase project in which we're doing VOIP phone system, new computer-aided dispatching, new 911, new records management, and we're upgrading our mapping," Juden said.

The new computer mapping will be the last and longest of the phases. "That's the part we will not have completed until March," Juden said.

McMillen noted that with the new phone system, non-emergency phone numbers have been added for all three firestations.

The new non-emergency phone number for Firestation No. 1, located on North West Street, is 475-3781; Firestation No. 2, located on North Main, is 475-3782; and Firestation No. 3, which is on Ables Road, is 475-3783.

McMillen said that in case of an emergency, the phone number to call is still 911.

DPS Headquarters phone numbers remain the same: 471-4711 for dispatch and 471-6200 for administration.

"If anybody has any problem calling in, they need to let us know so we can address those," Juden said.