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Dial 911-compromise

March 23, 1999

It's been almost a month since we counseled compromise as the solution to a suit filed by a couple who didn't care for the new name assigned to their street as part the Berkeley County, W.Va. 911 address-conversion program. Now that a second suit has been filed, it's twice as likely the program will be harmed if it gets tied up in court.

The need for the program is not in doubt; emergency dispatchers need to make sure they're sending fire/rescue crews to the proper location. Eliminating similar-sounding names is one part of that process.

Residents were surveyed as to what alternatives they preferred, but not all responded. The second suit claims that some 911 address-change packets were delivered to the wrong addresses or were hung on cars, fences and railings.

A more serious claim: That there is no logical system used in the new numbering plan. If true, that would mean that the new system would be no improvement over the present one, and no help to emergency crews trying to find a residence or business.

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Rather than allow this matter to go to court, we recommend that county officials sit down with opponents and try to sort the trivial, I-don't-like-the-new-name claims from those that relate directly to the delivery of emergency services.

To help in the process, we suggest that the county bring in some fire/rescue personnel, to describe to the parties what happens on a dark night when a panicked wife whose husband is having a heart attack tries to tell the 911 dispatcher just where their house is located.

At that moment, it should become clear why this project has to move forward, and why the expense involved in changing addresses on checks, mail boxes and other personal items is worth every penny.

As for the claim that some homeowners are being required to erect their own street signs, what the county does for one, it should do for all, if only to keep the signs standard. If that's the biggest issue the county has to work out, this problem is more than halfway to being solved.

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