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Testing for wireless 911 under way

March 2, 2012
By TOM GIAMBRONI , Salem News

LISBON - Testing for wireless 911 service has finally begun, with the system expected to become operational in April.

"It's been working unbelievably well," said Columbiana County 911 Director Robert Emmons at this week's 911 advisory committee meeting.

Verizon and AT&T technicians began work in late February on activating county cell phone tower sites one at a time to begin processing wireless 911 calls in a detailed format, and then placed test calls to the county's 911 system to determine accuracy.

Emmons said the ability to pinpoint the exact location of the wireless 911 test calls were so accurate they have been able to determine not only the exact location of the caller but whether the call from a stopped motor vehicle came from the north or south side of the road.

Wireless 911 calls use latitude and longitude to plot the location of the caller on a map, and accuracy can be determined up to 10 feet, depending on signal strength and other factors.

"The system is never going to be perfect, but it's going to be as successful as we can get it, but there are a lot of variables," said county Commissioner Mike Halleck, committee chairman.

Emmons said the work of programming each tower to begin processing 911cell calls from

carriers and conduct test calls is a "very involved process." Smaller wireless carriers have yet to begin the process, but the hope is the county wireless system will be able to accept calls from Verizon and AT&T customers by April.

Currently, most 911 calls from cell phones go to the county sheriff's office, but the dispatchers have no idea who is placing the call or the location of the caller without the more advanced wireless system that will be in place. When the system is implemented, that information will be automatically available to dispatchers, not to mention the calls will be routed to the closest 911 dispatching center instead of the sheriff's office.

The 911 system for land line phones has been in place since the fall of 2008, and the committee has been working since then on the plan to integrate wireless 911 into the system. Land line 911 is funded with a voter-approved monthly tax of 50 cents per month, while wireless 911 is funded with a monthly state tax of 28 cents per cell phone.

In other action, Emmons reported at the meeting they have temporarily halted plans to place a dispatching center at the county Emergency Management Agency after the equipment costs came in significantly higher than anticipated.

Emmons had decided to combine the equipment order with new equipment needed to add a third 911 work station at the sheriff's office, and he estimated the combined equipment purchase would cost $6,000, but the bids came it at nearly $16,000. For that reason, he scaled back the purchase to only include equipment for the sheriff's extra work station.

 
 

 

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