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Jackson County's new fiber cable to improve law, emergency communications
Paramedic Training Coordinator Michael Gosnell shows how the heart monitor works inside one of the Jackson County ambulances last week. The new fiber backbone approved by the county commission will help the paramedics receive information from the 911 centers and send information to hospitals while en route. - photo by Claire Miller

As an ambulance rushes patients to the hospital, workers onboard check vital signs and often administer aid before even getting to the emergency room.

This involves using information gathered at the scene and the medical monitoring equipment inside the ambulance. But imagine doctors at the hospital receiving those vitals and information in real time from the ambulance to prepare for the patient’s arrival.

This may be possible in the near future, along with other public safety and record keeping improvements, thanks to Jackson County’s newest technology investment — a fiber backbone.

Last week, the Jackson County Commission approved construction of a fiber cable system running underground from the Jackson County Courthouse off Ga. 82 to the county’s administrative building on Athens Street in downtown Jefferson.

The project will cost the county $146,112, funded through interest earned on bonds issued to pay for the new Jackson County Jail, according to Finance Director John Hulsey.

Justin King, Jackson County’s director of information technology, said the fiber backbone has been in the works for about a year and will essentially give the county the ability to increase the amount of data sent among departments.

"We’re burying a conduit like a normal power company would with 40 strands of fiber. It has a lot higher bandwidth than copper. To give you an example, you might have a 3 MG or 6 MG connection at your home, and you have almost the same amount as the county right now," he said.

As the county looks to expand and improve its services, the extra bandwidth will help communication and prevent the county from unnecessarily duplicating records and services. The fiber backbone will also lay the groundwork for the county to transfer all its documents to a digital format.

Kind said the county plans to break ground in two to three weeks and hopefully finish the project in two months, "barring any unforeseen circumstances."

Residents will begin seeing the effects of this new fiber backbone in particular when it comes to the sheriff’s office, the emergency services department and other public safety departments.

"It improves county services across the board ... but the biggest impact that citizens are going to see is enhanced services for public safety," King said.

For example, the county hopes to see the 911 centers send information directly to the ambulances out in the field.

Steve Nichols, Jackson County Emergency Services director, said his office also has been working on a program that would send real-time information to emergency room doctors before patients arrive.

"We hope to have the capabilities of putting you on a heart monitor to monitor your heart condition," he said.

"And we’ll be able to send to EKGs to the hospital so the doctor is looking at the same thing that we can see here, before you get to the ER. They’ll be able to get real time information from the back of the truck. It saves precious time getting someone medical attention."

This initiative is making waves with local hospital staff as well, Nichols said.

"They are tickled to death at the hospitals," he said. "We’re already sending test info to Northeast Georgia Medical Center and Athens Regional."

The fiber backbone’s increased bandwidth could also allow for more remote emergency services and sheriff’s office sites in the county — a step that falls in line with the county’s master plan for expanding the emergency services department.

"We’re probably looking at a 10-year plan to add four stations," he said. "But it all hinges on people coming, revenue coming, budgets coming — all that good stuff."

The county sheriff’s office also plans to have remote locations in the county but no set plans have been made yet, said Maj. David Cochran.

"Sheriff (Stan) Evans has been working on that for about several years now ... it’s in the planning process and we don’t have any specifics at this particular point," he said.

Like the emergency services department, the sheriff’s office hopes to add laptops to 20-25 vehicles so officers can readily access important information and write up incident reports from the scene. About 30 vehicles now have laptops.

"We’re operating with laptop mobile computers connected to our in-house networks, so anything we have within the sheriff’s office they have access to in their patrol vehicles," Cochran said. "To get them in all of our patrol cars, we need to get bigger bandwidth."

Additionally, the bandwidth offered through the fiber backbone will keep the sheriff’s office, emergency services department and other parts of the government connected to each other.

"I think it will connect everything back to the administrative building in downtown Jefferson to be able to link all of us to one system," Cochran said.