TELECOMMUNICATIONS/County public safety center gets help with 911 calls
Public safety officials report that one in four 911 calls is made on a wireless phone. Ninety percent of those wireless 911 calls come from distressed highway travelers reporting vehicle breakdowns or accidents in unfamiliar settings.
While cell phone use has aided in emergency reports and responses, many wireless phones fail to provide an automatic number identification (ANI) or an automatic location identification (ALI), hindering response to the emergency. That problem prompted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to initiate a two-phase program for emergency call dispatch operations.
The first phase requires wireless carriers to give qualified public safety answering points (PSAPs) the caller’s phone number and receiving antennae location. By 2001, carriers must narrow the caller’s location to within 125 meters 67 percent of the time.
The FCC Wireless Act also orders local governments to devise cost-recovery mechanisms before the new location service begins. Since 1968, most residential customers have paid a 50-cent monthly surcharge to fund 911 service. Commercial customers pay roughly $2 for the service on every business line. However, wireless customers currently pay no surcharge for the service, creating a funding problem in smaller communities with limited public safety services.
Dispatchers in Sumner County, Tenn. — a 600-square-mile region with 150,000 residents — used to turn to assorted paper road maps to give locations and directions to emergency responders. But that method created problems for dispatchers and responders because of similar street names, according to Dennis Wallace, director of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for Sumner County. “We cover five different cities, each with a Main Street,” he says. “A few roads out in the country even have the same names as city streets.”
In addition, the turnover rate among dispatchers was high, causing more problems because new dispatchers were unfamiliar with all roads and procedures. In 1999, Sumner County set out to solve its mapping problems and provide higher quality service to callers, as well as conform to new federal laws.
To improve 911 call management, Sumner County selected a computer-aided dispatch system called PSAP Map. Supplied by Global Dispatch Technology, Oklahoma City, the system runs on personal computers under a Windows operating system.
The new software tool automatically grabs all inbound 911 feeds, both landline and wireless. Dispatchers view their callers’ corresponding locations as numbered icons “pinned” to a computerized map and can quickly send the appropriate unit to respond to the call. In addition, Sumner County EMS can instantly play back recorded 911 calls, which are kept in an archived file for data and response analysis.
Sumner County paid $154,000 for the computer-aided dispatch system and hardware specifications. The county’s local governments now update their maps quarterly.