KSUPD improves way it receives 911 calls

Cody Francis

Wireless towers reconfigured

Since the Kent State University Police Department’s 911 answering service recently upgraded the way it accepts emergency calls from wireless phones, the number of 911 calls has increased significantly.

“We probably get 10 times as many calls as we did before,” said Denise Walden, a dispatcher at the police department.

In November 2008, the towers around campus were reconfigured to accept any 911 call made within its boundaries -ÿanywhere on campus and directly off campus.

Before then, if an emergency number was dialed from a wireless phone on campus, it was not guaranteed the caller would speak to a dispatcher at KSUPD.

“Cell phones had no idea where you were, so they had no idea where the nearest tower was,” said Matt Radigan, police support services manager. “Now, each tower antenna is assigned a 911 center, so when it gets a call it goes directly to that center.”

Also with the new reconfiguration, dispatchers are able to track a caller’s approximate location. Prior to the reconfiguration, this was a feature only available with landlines.

“With a landline, we could send someone directly to the house,” Radigan said. “In the cell phone world, we just didn’t get that information.”

The reconfiguration came about when the Federal Communications Commission set rules for wireless service providers concerning 911 calls. The FCC set up a three-phase system for wireless service providers to comply to KSUPD is now in the third phase of that system, which means the department is provided with the most accurate information possible when it receives an emergency call from a wireless phone.

The FCC Web site says it is estimated that about 50 percent of all 911 calls are made from wireless phones.

Walden said the problem with wireless 911 calls is the number of hang-ups the department receives.

“It’s really frustrating when we get a call and it just ends up being a hang-up,” Walden said. “People don’t always call back after a hang-up, either. We have to call them, and they don’t always answer.”

Radigan said many of the calls received are multiple calls for the same incident.

“Before, we may get one call about an incident,” Radigan said. “Now we can get up to 15 or 16 calls for the same incident.”

The entire reconfiguration process cost between about $80,000 and $100,000, Radigan said, adding the new system is worth the cost.

“No matter where you are – in a dorm, an office, the library, anywhere – if you call from a wireless device, you are going to talk to someone here at the Kent State University Police Department,” Radigan said. “That is important.”

This is not the end of the reconfiguration. The FCC Web site says by Sept. 11, 2012, wireless providers will be required to “provide even more precise location information, specifically, information accurate to the closest PSAP (Public Service Answering Point).”

The site also says the wireless service providers must report to them yearly on their progress in providing this information.

Contact safety reporter Cody Francis at [email protected].