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Updates make 9-1-1 systems more efficient

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fulton County's 9-1-1 upgrades are beginning to pay off allowing dispatchers to pinpoint the exact location of callers using cellular phones.

"In the past, if someone called for help they had to tell them where they were. Now, if it's from a cell phone, we can get within shouting distance," said Fulton County 9-1-1 Coordinator David Keck.

The county's dispatching equipment was upgraded in April. The new equipment coupled with the county's centerline system put into use a month ago allows dispatchers to see an exact location of a cellular caller. This technology will allow authorities to respond quicker to emergency situations.

"It will increase response times and help everyone all the way around," Keck said.

With the new system in place, dispatchers can locate a cellular caller depending on the proximity of the cellular tower the phone is using to make the call, Keck said. The system typically pinpoints the caller from 10 to 100 feet of the caller's location from a chip inside the phone, he said.

"It nails them to where they are at right now,"?he said.

Also, if a caller is driving down a road, the system can track the caller every 10 to 30 seconds to show the direction of travel, Keck said.

While the system is working well, it is still in the testing phase, Keck said. The centerline system still requires some changes, primarily corrections to the spellings of some street names in the county, he said. The system should be completed within the next month, he said.

The county was approved for a centerline grant last year along with many other counties in the state, including Sharp. Although some centerline projects are taking some time, Fulton County's is not.

According to Keck, the county hired a private contractor to address the county in 1998. Part of the contractor's job was to create a centerline file mapping all the roads in the county, he said. The problem was, the contractor didn't finish the job. But, Keck picked up where the contractor left off. It was completed in 2000, he said. That information put the county ahead on its centerline project because all the information was already collected and on file. It was just in a different format.

"It's working out real well,"?Keck said.

The first day the system was in use, the county received a phone call that put the system to the test. The county equipment located the caller outside the county in the Sharp County portion of Cherokee Village, Keck said. Dispatch then pushed a button and transferred the call to Sharp County.

"Whatever cell phone tower picks up the call depends on where the call goes,"?Keck said.

The next upgrade to the system will be locating calls from land line phones, Keck said. It is expected to be completed by October, he said.

Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver said his county's computer aided dispatch system gives the dispatcher the X and Y coordinates of the caller, but that information currently does the county little good.

"We don't have the mapping system to show where it is on the map," he said, adding that the centerline project is underway but hasn't been integrated into the 9-1-1 equipment as of yet.

Being able to pinpoint the location of callers is vital, Weaver said.

"It's very important, and it always has been, but I think it's more so all the time," he said. "There are more and more cell phone calls coming in every day."

Some of those calls from cellular phones are from motorists reporting a wreck. If the caller is not familiar with the area, it may be difficult to locate the wreck, but with the mapping system that won't be a problem anymore.

"It's a very valuable tool," Weaver said.

Sharp County's dispatch system received a vital upgrade a few years ago when the county changed 9-1-1 providers and replaced the aging equipment. The upgrade provided dispatchers with a name, phone number and address of a land line phone and gave the phone number and sometimes the name on the cellular phones, Weaver said. The system was expanded a few months ago, allowing dispatchers to access the coordinates of a call.

The centerline projects don't only help with 9-1-1, but in other county offices as well. County assessors can use the information to locate parcels of land and home sites, and county road departments can also use the equipment in their daily work.

"It's a good thing all the way around," Weaver said.

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