Friday, July 18, 2008

New system will help locate 911 cell phone callers

This was my first POD story.

St. Joseph News-Press

Her job involves everything from livestock on the loose, wrecks, drunken falls and shots fired. No matter what the event, Joan Clayton relies on her communications system to help her locate exactly where a 911 phone call is coming from.
Ms. Clayton has worked in St. Joseph and Buchanan County’s 911 communications center for 23 years and soon, for the first time, she will be able to determine the location of an individual placing a call from a cell phone.
On June 30, the St. Joseph City Council approved the purchase of the roughly $282,000 worth of equipment needed to make the switch. The current system lacks the ability to identify the whereabouts of callers on a cell phone.
“We’re all really excited,” said Ms. Clayton. “If people in a stressful situation call and can only vaguely tell us where they are this system will help us find them faster.”
Tabby McClanahan, public safety network administrator, says law enforcement officials have been trying to get their current system replaced for almost five years, but other priorities such as a new two-way radio system came first. Funding for the new system will come from Capital Improvements Program, or CIP, funds.
“We will be the first department in the region to have this system,” Ms. McClanahan said.
Johnson County, Kan., has purchased the system but hasn’t installed it yet, said Ms. McClanahan.
The system, which the department hopes to have up and running by August, allows for two additional operators over the current system.
“Right now we have to manually gather call counts but this new system will automatically do that,” Ms. McClanahan said. “Those numbers provide good workload indicators, which tell us the number of personnel needed during peak call hours.”
During the month of June, Ms. Clayton and the operators at the 911 communications center received 4,588 emergency calls and 16,386 calls on their non-emergency lines.
“Our job is helping people, and this system is going to make it much easier and faster for us to help them,” Ms. Clayton said.

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