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PUBLISHED WEEKLY BY THE TAMPA TRIBUNE

TEMPLE TERRACE NEWS

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 2004 ♦ ALSO SERVING THE UNIVERSITY AREA

 

New System To Improve County’s 911 System

USES TECHNOLOY FROM LOCAL COMPANY

By MICHAEL HINMAN

mhinman@mediageneral.com

 

When Hillsborough County’s 911 system receives an emergency call, details like the address and other pertinent information immediately comes up for the dispatcher.

 

That kind of technology has been around for quite a while, and is something almost taken for granted for regular phone lines, also known as “land lines.”  But what happens when someone has an emergency and they’re calling from the cellular phone?  Sure, that person has a home address, but with the mobility of cell phones, that caller could be anywhere.

 

An act by the Federal Communications Commission is changing that.  By the end of next year, wireless companies will have to find a way to provide location coordinates of phones dialing into the 911 emergency system.  With the location coordinates, dispatchers will be able to find out exactly where a cell phone call is being made from, and get whatever response is needed to that location.

 

“There is a federal mandate that gives them a deadline when they’re supposed to have this in place,” said Ira Pyles, operations manager for the Hillsborough County 911 administration.  “Some carriers are requesting waivers for the deadline so there’s not really one set date anymore.”

 

According to Pyles, the wireless companies can create and transmit these location coordinates using two different methods.  One method is through a global positioning system chip in the phone that uses satellites to determine location.  Another method is through triangulating someone’s position using transmission towers that the phone is connected to.

 

No matter how the coordinates are sent, the big question then becomes, how does the county 911 system use the data?  That answer has come from Temple Terrace-based International Computer Works.

 

Ken Tozier, president of the company, said that ICW has been working with Hillsborough County, and various departments, to help develop a mapping system called GeoPoints that will create maps for dispatchers, right down to lot size, dimensions of buildings and so forth.  Each map area has a “point,” where a user can click and pull up a variety of information about the lot, including its owner, and other information the county keeps on record.

 

“When we were first approached about this, we figured it would just be too large of a task for us to do,” Tozier said.  “We didn’t want to say no.  But we decided that if we were going to do this, we would build a set of tools that we could use to share with the sheriff’s department and 911.  We ended up building a product that was far superior than any of us have anticipated.”

 

The new computer program form International Computer Works will replace the paper maps used by the county by the end of the year.

 

Currently, there are about 800 paper maps that the county uses to pinpoint locations, including those for emergency calls.  When a dispatcher receives a location, it’s usually plotted on a street with a range of building numbers and addresses.  The dispatcher is only able to get an approximate location of the call, which is relayed to a responder.

 

However, with GeoPoints, a dispatcher can get not only an exact address, but possibly even an exact location on a property or in a building.

 

“The GeoPoint map layer will give us more accuracy because it’s going to give us a location and an accurate address,” said Janet Hollingshead, a systems analyst for the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office.  “Prior to the GeoPoint file being used as a backdrop, we had a street file which gives us a range of addresses that would point a plot accordingly.  There will be different uses of the program at the sheriff’s office, like using if for crime analysis.”

 

Kevin Howe, senior manager of the Hillsborough County 911 Administration’s streets and addresses unit, looks over some maps that were used as part of the county’s old system of identifying property.  Computer mapping provided by ICW will almost completely eliminate the need for paper maps, and will instead provide a central database of detailed information.

 

And there will be many other uses of this technology, too.  According to Kevin Howe, senior manager of Hillsborough County 911 Administration’s streets and addressing unit, the information provided by the mapping technology of the unincorporated parts of the county can be made available to other county agencies.  Agencies like the supervisor of elections, the water department, and the planning and growth management department.

 

This screen capture show how the GeoPoints system works.  Dispatchers can pull up a map of a specific area of the county and click on specific lots.  By doing that, a new window pops up providing detailed information about the lot.

 

“Whoever has a project there who needs address information, like if planning and growth management is going to cut a road through developed and undeveloped property, they can go into this file and locate any structures that will be in the way of the road.”

 

The database that GeoPoints uses is still being constructed.  So far, more than 191,000 “points” of information have been added to the county system.  Howe said he expects that after it’s all complete, there will probably be about 300,000 points total.

 

“What’s interesting (about the process) is that we are finding in some of these older sections of the county addresses that they are out of sequence,” Howe said. “For whatever reasons over the years, no one has informed us.  So now we’re contacting the people and changing their address and bringing them into the current addressing scheme.”

 

The county is the first to utilize the new GeoPoints system, but Tozier said he expects to be able to make the technology available to other municipalities around the area, and both regionally and nationally, in the near future.

 

“We had about seven committee meetings to put this all together,” Tozier said of his work with the county.  “It was educational process on their end, and it was one on our end as well.  They learned about what technology was available to them, and in turn, they shared with us what they needed.”

 

The system soon will also provide photos of locations and such from points, so that a dispatcher – and someday even a responder – can get a visual idea of what a property looks like, so that it can be found faster when needed.

 

ICW has been creating maps and such for government agencies and businesses for years.  Last year, they helped the Hillsborough County School District set up mapping technology and databases for the School Choice program.  And the new Web site for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office, www.votehillsborough.org, uses mapping technology from ICW to help people find their precinct polling location and other information.

 

For more information on ICW’s work, visit its Web site at www.icwmaps.com.