Upgrade in 911 call service sought

Plan would enable center to receive data from cell phones

January 29, 2002|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

When someone calls the 911 emergency center from home, dispatchers can immediately see on a computer screen the caller's name, phone number and the address where the call originated.

But that information is unavailable when a call is made from a cell phone.

The Office of Public Safety wants dispatchers taking 911 calls from cell phones to receive phone numbers and locations.

Howard S. Redman Jr., director of the Office of Public Safety, told the Carroll commissioners last week he wants to draft a letter to the seven cell phone companies that serve the county, requesting the cost to provide dispatchers with callers' cell phone numbers and locations.

"Right now, we get nothing. No information at all from a cell phone call," Redman said. "Last year, we got 55,000 calls to 911 for fire, emergency medical services and police, and 40 percent are coming from cell phones."

The commissioners unanimously approved Redman's request.

Redman said 25 percent of cell phone 911 calls are accidental.

"Especially with the older phones that have one-button call for 911, people can accidentally hit the button and call us and not know it," he said. "It's not unusual for someone to sit on their cell phone and call us and not ever know it and have the line open for 10 to 15 minutes."

State legislation has allowed phone companies to charge a 911 fee for wired home phones since 1985. Home phone users pay a 10-cent fee every month on their phone bill to improve 911 systems in the state, plus up to 50 cents more for operational costs, Redman said. Money goes to the state Emergency Number Systems Board.

The General Assembly is considering legislation put together by wireless vendors serving Maryland residents that would require cell phone users to pay a 35-cent monthly fee that would go the wireless 911 number and location enhancement.

A wireless 911 pilot program is under way in Anne Arundel County, and officials do not know how much it will cost or how costs will be paid.

"The proposed law gives the state a commitment to wireless 911, but the county still has to pay for it," Redman said. "We don't know what the cost is going to be, whether it's a one-time thing or a monthly fee per call."

Redman said he has heard fees ranging from 9 cents to $1 per call from vendors.

His letter would have to be worded so he could receive cost information without committing the county to wireless 911 from the vendors, he said. "I don't want to commit the county to something we can't afford," he said.

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