Wilt letter: City opts out of county’s new E-911 system

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According to information presented at the Nov. 26 Lancaster County Council meeting, at its Nov. 19 meeting Lancaster City Council voted to retain its own 911 center and will not participate in the E-911 Center being developed by the county. 

This places the city in the interesting ethical position of preventing county residents who happen to live in the city from receiving the substantial benefits to be gained through the use of the new system. City residents are also county residents, pay county taxes and would seem to be entitled to the substantial benefits of the new county E-911 system.

Under the current 911 system, emergency information is written down and manually passed from the telephone operator to a dispatcher. The dispatcher must identify, then contact the appropriate unit or station and relay the handwritten information to the responder, who must then respond to the call. In the case of cell phone calls, an large and increasing fraction of 911 calls, if the call originates from the city, the call must first be transferred to the city 911 center. This system is clumsy and inefficient, with numerous opportunities for mistakes. It is typically several minutes between the time the phone rings in the 911 center and the time that the responder is rolling, and the possibility that the responder is rolling to the wrong place is significant.

The county has been working for several years to implement a new E-911 system in which the emergency information would be entered only once, eventually directly from the call itself, and passed as necessary to dispatcher and responding unit by computer. The time from initial phone ring to responder rolling should be under one minute, with the responder having GPS directions to the site and a GIS picture of the building or other emergency location.

In connection with this effort, the county is undertaking a complete review of street names to eliminate duplication and confusion. It is very frustrating for everyone when the emergency response vehicle rolls up to 111 Dirt Road, Lancaster County, sirens howling, only to discover that the actual emergency is at 111 Dirt Road, in the city of Lancaster.

It is difficult for me, a county resident, to understand the basis on which the city would decline to participate in this program, thus denying its benefits to those county residents who have chosen to live in the city. In emergency situations, minutes make a difference, sometimes the difference between life and death; sometimes the difference between damage and ruin.

J.R. Wilt

Van Wyck