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Archive for Tuesday, August 31, 2004

County approves enhanced 911 service

August 31, 2004

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Emergency dispatchers soon will be getting assistance answering calls for help from wireless phones.

A new enhanced 911 system for wireless calls should be in place within six months, automatically giving dispatchers the ability to pinpoint the locations of callers unable to speak or relay where they are.

Douglas County commissioners agreed Monday to pursue such a plan. The county will need to invest about $50,000 into equipment and computer software, plus make formal requests to wireless companies for the data necessary to pinpoint individual calls.

From there, it's simply a matter of filing documents, coordinating schedules and plugging in components before all 474.5 square miles of the county are accessible to electronic mapping on an emergency basis.

"It's a tremendous leap forward, in terms of public safety," said Jim Denney, the county's director of emergency communications. "Virtually every day, we have an issue of some sort -- usually minor, but sometimes not -- where we would've been helped out by knowing the location of a cell phone call."

While nearly half of the 50,000 calls that come into the county's Emergency Communication Center each year come from wireless phones, the financing for the center's operations has come from a 75-cents-a-month fee on users of traditional, land-line phones.

That's starting to change. Beginning July 1, users of wireless phones registered in Kansas pay 50 cents a month to help finance such "enhanced" 911 service -- dubbed "E-911" -- for wireless phones.

County officials have been working for years to upgrade their system to be prepared for wireless E-911. Whenever a piece of aging equipment was up for replacement, officials were careful to buy items that would be capable of handling data from wireless companies.

Now that commissioners have endorsed a system, the next step will be to receive location data from wireless companies who do business in the county.

Denney said he would send formal requests to Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon within the week. That will give the companies up to six months to start sending the data, which the dispatch center then will convert to locations.

"There are still some glitches in the system -- it takes four or five seconds, as opposed to instantaneously -- but it does put cellular back on equal footing" with land-line phones, Denney said.

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