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911 remains a slave to position of cell tower

LISBON — Columbiana County’s 911 officials cleared up a misunderstanding about whether the new Next Generation 911 system was supposed to correct problems with some calls going to dispatchers in other counties.

The issue was raised at this week’s meeting of the county 911 advisory committee meeting by committee member Brett Todd, who asked if they were still having problems with some 911 calls made from the county actually being answered in other counties.

He was under the impression upgrading to NG911 would help solve the problem, but county Emergency Management Agency Director Peggy Clark said that is not the case. Clark, who also serves as 911 co-director, said the problem lies with cellphone towers and not NG911, which has proved as accurate as advertised in pinpointing the exact location of 911 calls.

Since most calls today are made by cellphone they automatically go to the closet tower used by that particular cellphone service provider. In other words, if Verizon is your cellphone provider, the 911 call would go to the closest Verizon tower, regardless of geographic boundaries. Under normal circumstances, a call would go to a county tower and then to one of five law enforcement agencies in the county designated to take 911 calls.

Clark said the problem of 911 cellphone calls going outside the county almost always occurs in the local communities that border other states or counties. In those instances, the calls go to the closest tower of the cellphone carrier and it may be in an adjoining county or state.

Salem Police Lt. John Casto, who attended the meeting, said they recently received a 911 call from Greenford, located three miles across the border in Mahoning County.

“We seem to get a lot of Mahoning County calls because we’re basically in Mahoning County,” added Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott. East Liverpool has a similar problem with West Virginia calls.

This is because the tower in Salem must be the closest for people in Greenford area who use a particular cellphone carrier. “This is just one of those things you can’t do anything about,” said Brian Rutledge, 911 co-director.

“This is a nationwide problem, not a Columbiana County issue,” Clark said. “Until someone make cellphone (companies) change where calls are directed it will continue to be an issue.”

Clark said federal legislation has been proposed to address the problem..

“I wish they would fix it because it would make our life easier,” Panezott said.

Until then, Rutledge said they will continue work with the carriers to direct the tower receivers as best they can to capture all 911 calls.

In other business, Rutledge reported General Dynamics, which sold the county its NG911 system, has sold its state and local NG911 business to Comtech Communications for an undisclosed sum. The county is in the second year of a three-year operating agreement with General Dynamics that officials assume will continue with Comtech. They were encouraged by the fact Comtech brought over 60 General Dynamics employees as part of the acquisition.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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