Growth of cell calls complicating work for 911 dispatchers

About 30 to 40 percent of 911 calls come over cellular phones, thus complicating the jobs of Marion County emergency dispatchers, the Marion County Commission learned Wednesday, Dec. 26.

In a holiday meeting that dealt mostly with year-end fund encumbrances for various projects, the commissioners also extended the county-wide burning ban for another week.

The commissioners’ intent is to reconsider the burning ban week by week until sufficient moisture is received to relieve the tinder-dry conditions.

They also heard some bad news from the county clerk’s office that sales tax receipts again were down for the month at $36,636.67 compared to $37,886.78 a year ago. The good news was that sales taxes for 2001 ended $12,034.66 over last year at $463,610.52, the highest total figure in six years.

The commissioners approved spending from $8,000 in funds Michele Abbott-Becker, emergency management director, has left, to install video cameras at the jail’s front and rear doors and in the booking area. At Commissioner Leroy Wetta’s suggestion, the booking area camera will include audio.

Abbott-Becker said the cameras will relieve the need for officers to wait for female personnel to arrive to book females, increase security for dispatchers, and be valuable in background for cases such as DUI arrests.

Commissioner Howard Collett asked Abbot-Becker about a 911 call made by cellular phone from along K-150 east of Marion last week that went into Emporia dispatch, and had to be called back out to Marion County.

Abbott-Becker pointed out that the roaming feature of cellular phones locates the best tower to relay calls, and that varying weather conditions may affect where calls are received. Given the right weather conditions, she said Marion dispatchers have had to deal with referring numerous 911 calls from along the Kansas Turnpike to the authorities that deal with that area.

Abbott-Becker said that while 911 calls from standard phone lines can be pinpointed, cellular phones are more difficult to locate. She said the state may add new surcharges to cellular phone bills in the future to help with an emergency program for locating them.

Abbott-Becker said the county’s plans for acquiring emergency equipment is somewhat delayed while waiting to see what equipment is coming under a weapons of mass destruction grant through the state that awards equipment instead of money. She said it is important for the county to acquire self-contained breathing-apparatus units that provide oxygen under protective clothing which sell for $1,241 each. She said the units would enable personnel to enter a dangerously contaminated area where doing something as simple as turning off a valve might limit a wider disaster.

“We have a long wish list for equipment, but we don’t know what to get until we see what the state provides,” she said. “They’ll tell us in February or March.”

At Commissioner Bob Hein’s suggestion, the commissioners encumbered $7,000 to supplement equipment provided by the state.

The commissioners voted to encumber about $18,000 for Marion County Lake: $6,792.60 for the breech analysis, $9,960 for fish purchases and $1,800 for lake brochures.

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