New technology will let Washington County, Wis., pinpoint callers' location


Copyright 2005 Journal Sentinel Inc.

911 upgrade for cell phone calls to be done by May 1
 
By DON BEHM
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin) 

West Bend - Dispatchers at the Washington County Sheriff's Department will be able to locate cell phone callers in emergencies by May 1, Sheriff Brian Rahn said.

The computer display screens, additional 911 phone lines and computer software needed to pinpoint a caller's location on a map, even if the person is in a moving vehicle, will be installed in April at an estimated cost of $392,056, Rahn said. He spoke Monday at a meeting of the County Board's Public Safety Committee.

Planning for a wireless 911 service in Ozaukee County has not been completed, and it is uncertain whether it will be implemented in 2006, Ozaukee County Administrator Tom Meaux said Tuesday.

Washington County is embracing the technology now because a majority of 911 calls made in the county already come from cell phones rather than traditional land-based lines, Rahn said. At this time, 911 calls made with cell phones are routed to non-emergency phone lines.

When those cell phone callers are motorists, some are not able to identify their exact location because of darkness or unfamiliarity with a road or highway. By immediately displaying a location on a screen and avoiding a prolonged conversation between caller and dispatcher, the new system will cut the response time of law enforcement officers, firefighters or other emergency personnel, authorities have said.

Washington County has awarded Positron Public Safety Systems of Atlanta a $140,298 contract to install the display screens and train dispatchers. SBC will be paid $127,313 to provide more 911 phone lines and backup battery power. RA Smith & Associates of Brookfield will be paid $124,445 for geographic mapping services.

State grants will pay almost 80% of the price, Rahn said.

Washington County will pay all costs and then be reimbursed by the state Public Service Commission over a period of three years, he said. The county ultimately will be responsible for paying $80,000 of the costs.

Governor offered grants

Last month, Gov. Jim Doyle offered $29 million in grants to 68 counties to help pay for the so-called enhanced wireless 911 service. Nine phone companies were granted $47 million to pay their expenses in providing cell phone location capability in Wisconsin.

Cell phone users in Wisconsin will fund the state grants through a $0.83 monthly surcharge on each cell phone number. The surcharge, which will begin with December or January bills, will end in three years, under state law.

The federal government has mandated that cell phone companies have the capability in place in case dispatch centers choose to use it.

Those companies generally rely on one of two technologies to provide dispatchers with a cell phone's map coordinates.

Telephones equipped with global positioning system technology contact three or more communications satellites to verify location and then relay the coordinates to a dispatch center.

In the other technology, a cell phone contacts three or more communication towers, and the service provider is able to triangulate the phone's coordinates for a dispatch center.

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