Maryland county gets ready for Enhanced 911 service

Maryland county gets ready for Enhanced 911 service

Montgomery County, Md., is implementing Enhanced 911 in its emergency communications system to help dispatchers and rescue personnel locate emergency callers who use cellular phones.

E911 is part of the county's new Public Safety Data System, a $175 million infrastructure upgrade by Northrop Grumman Corp.

'We have been waiting for the phone companies to define the standards for how the data will be sent,' Montgomery County chief technology officer Mike Knuppel said. 'It's taken some time to develop those standards,' but the equipment in the county's emergency call centers should be configured to receive the data in a couple of months.

Before Enhanced 911, emergency call centers had no way to locate the origin of 911 transmissions from cell phones.

The Federal Communications Commission in 1996 adopted E911 rules requiring carriers by April 1, 1998, to provide emergency answering points with telephone numbers and locations of cell site or base station where the calls originated.

The commission soon after required carriers to be able to pinpoint a caller's location to within between 50 meters and 300 meters. But carriers were slow to implement E911 and local governments even slower to take advantage of it because of the equipment investment.

Montgomery County included E911 in a wholesale upgrade of its emergency communications system that began in 1997. In addition to E911, the upgrade covers computer-aided dispatch, a mobile data communications subsystem, a mobile message switch, vehicle-mounted mobile subscriber equipment and 1,400 in-vehicle computers.

The emergency communications system serves the county sheriff's office and police department as well as municipal police, fire and emergency medical services. During last year's Washington area sniper shootings, the county distributed some of the new, 800-MHz digital radios from its communications upgrade so that police in other jurisdictions could participate in the manhunt.

Knuppel said quite a few of the county's emergency calls come via cell phone, and 'the folks that are in operations' are eager to use the enhanced service.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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