Helping E-911 save lives

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 6, 2004

Bill Hamner, chairman of the Dallas County E-911 Board, says there is a major obstacle facing dispatchers and rescuers as they try to save lives during an emergency, and the problems seem to be growing.

Their biggest challenge by far, Hamner says, is being able to locate the scene of an accident or crime.

In a life-threatening situation, extra time spent trying to find an address could cost someone’s life.

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“A lot of people don’t have addresses on their mailboxes, or they do not have numbers posted clearly on their house or trailer,” Hamner said. “When 911 was first put into place here, everyone tried to make sure their home was clearly marked. Now, people have forgotten about it and not replaced their numbers. A postal worker may know where you live, but an ambulance driver or police officer could have a hard time finding you.”

Hamner said all city and county residents should post reflective address numbers on both their homes and mailboxes, making it easier for emergency personnel to find exactly where they need to be.

Hamner also pointed out that on many rural roads mailboxes are found grouped together, with five or six surrounding homes that have no distinguishable address postings on them.

“A police officer may get called to the scene of a robbery, but when they show up they are not sure which house to approach. Then, they have to factor in that a dangerous person is lurking around. They can’t just go up and start knocking on doors,” Hamner said. “People who don’t have mailboxes next to their homes should have some type of distinguishing posting.”

Another roadblock of citizen safety is the lack of information available when someone calls 911 on a cellular phone.

“When a person dials 911 on their cell phone, they need to be aware of their surroundings,” said Richard Bean, E-911 administrative coordinator. “On the road, they need to watch for mile posts and be able to tell us where they are.”

Bean said cellular phone services are required to follow 911 regulations, but most in most cases a tower location and corporate call back number is displayed on a dispatcher’s computer screen.

This means 911 dispatchers could have difficulty reaching cell phone callers if they get disconnected.

“We hope to start Phase II of a upgrade process by the end of this year, so when someone calls us on their cell phone, a map will come on the screen and show where the person is calling from,” Bean said.

Hamner added that Voice-over Internet calling, or other alternate telephone services, are not required to follow 911 regulations and therefore can not make contact with an emergency call center.

Hamner said that in the eight years of Dallas County E-911’s existence, they have become one of the leading rural emergency call centers in the country.

“Our equipment is as good as anybody’s,” Bean said. “Montgomery is going to catch up with us one of these days.”