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County in line for cell location upgrade

June 17, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County has been approved to receive $1.4 million in state funding for a cellular location identification system that will eventually allow 911 dispatchers to pinpoint the location of emergency calls made from cell phones.

Jerry Flasher, the director of the county's Department of Emergency Services, said Thursday that notice of the grant approval came last week.

It may be late 2006 or early 2007 before the system is up and running, he said.

The system will eventually be Phase II compliant, said Flasher, meaning that a 911 call from a cell phone can be tracked to a specific area using the longitude and latitude of the cell phone itself.

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To get to that point, Flasher said the county has to upgrade its address data base, install new computer software and hardware for the 911 center and its computer-aided dispatching system and geographic information system mapping of the county.

"Right now, we're actually at phase zero," said Flasher said. Cell phone calls cannot be traced to a location.

A Phase I system would triangulate the position of a caller using data from cellular towers, but only narrows the probable location down to an area of a few square miles. Flasher said he would like the county to see its system go directly to Phase II, but that will require coordination with the state.

"We've agreed to a partnership with the commonwealth and implementation will be done on a regional level," Flasher said. As part of the agreement, the state will work with cell phone service providers and manufacturers to upgrade their equipment, he said.

Eventually, all cell phones will be required by the Federal Communications Commission to have the technology needed for Phase II tracking, Flasher said.

Flasher said about 30 percent of the calls the 911 center receives are cellular. Pennsylvania collects a $1 a month surcharge on cell phones, with some of the money going to counties to plan and implement cellular identification systems.

The county is also nearing completion of a request for proposals for the upgrade of its public safety radio system, Flasher said. Last year, the Board of County Commissioners approved a $39 million bond issue, including $4 million to modernize the radio system.

The county system now has to handle police, fire, ambulance and municipal radio traffic operating on low-band, VHF and UHF frequencies. The goal is to create a countywide UHF radio network to achieve interoperability between all public safety agencies.

"Operability is the ability for the fire chief to talk to the fire truck," Flasher said. Interoperability will allow fire and rescue, police and other agencies to talk to each other without the need for dispatchers to relay messages from one to another.

"As far as public safety, it's by far the biggest project that has ever been done in Franklin County," Flasher said.

The complete transition to UHF will take about five years, he said.

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