When a 911 phone call comes in from a land line, Madison County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers immediately know where the call originated. A green dot and an address pops up on a map on the dispatcher’s computer screen.
The same cannot be said for 911 calls made from cellular phones—yet. Currently, the Sheriff’s Office has to rely on cell callers describing their whereabouts. Sometimes the information is incomplete or inaccurate, which delays emergency response.
That is about to change. Earlier this month, the Sheriff’s Office upgraded its dispatchers’ equipment and software to provide location information on 911 cell calls.
"The equipment is in place. The next step is that cell companies with towers in the county need to reconfigure their equipment to be compatible with ours," said Sheriff James P. Sabin.
All cellular phone service providers have until May 2008 to reconfigure and test their equipment in Madison County. Verizon and Revol have already started the process. As soon as each provider completes the process, the Sheriff’s Office will post the company’s name on its Web site, www.madisonsheriff.org.
Instant location information for 911 cell phone calls will be especially beneficial to emergency responders working in Madison County, Sabin said.
"We have a lot of freeways and rural areas without the landmarks you would have in urban areas," he said, which can make verbal descriptions of emergency locations difficult for callers.
For the same reason, the new service will be helpful in medical emergencies on the county’s bike trail, Sabin said.
Additionally, counties throughout the state must keep up with a trend in which people are relying completely on cell phones and giving up use of the land lines in their homes.
Sabin said approximately 80 percent of Ohio’s counties have at least started the process of implementing 911 cell call mapping systems.
The cost to implement the system in Madison County was $225,000, which covered software, hardware and installation. Part of the funding comes from a tariff imposed by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The tariff shows up on cell phone users’ bills as a 25-cent monthly fee.
"The state disburses the tariff collections to individual counties based on how many cell phones are registered in the county," Sabin said. "We have received $140,000 in the last two years."
While the tariff will continue to be collected through August 2008, Sabin said the funds the county receives will not be enough to cover the entire cost of the project. Also, the tariff funding does not cover the monthly maintenance fees on the equipment. Local funds will make up the difference, he said.
Sabin encourages cell phone users to check the Sheriff’s Office Web site for updates on service providers who are on board with the new 911 cell mapping system. Cell phone users do not need to do anything to their phones for the system to work.